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Guava Island musically enraptures its tropical aesthetic through severe self-indulgence. Donald Glover’s rhythmically-inclined alter-ego, Childish Gambino, is an inspirational talent. A rare find that cements the credibility of the current generation’s ability to produce harmonious tunes with a political trajectory. His “Awaken, My Love!” studio album infused psychedelic funk with soul and hip-hop, while his latest singles “This Is America” and “Summertime Magic” provide insight into his meticulous thought process. He is an artist through and through. So it comes to much astonishment that Guava Island, a miniature film that was clearly targeted at fans of his discography, was unable to find its footing amidst the soothing tropical breeze. A local musician/celebrity attempts to hold a music festival for the oppressed town of Guava Island, albeit ignoring the threatened warnings from the local dictatorial business magnate. It commenced with an animated folk tale, narrated by the stunningly beautiful Rihanna (“Te Amo”!), describing the origins and current state of Guava Island. Considering the runtime, totalling just under an hour, this method of expressionistic exposition was required to construct the foundations of the basic narrative. Delightful, if somewhat mundane. Murai, in his directorial debut, then proceeds to the live-action bulk with a stylised 4:3 ratio filter equipped with grainy visuals for authenticity. Considering the economic and structural climate of Guava Island, it was immersive and enhanced the world Rihanna lovingly described to us. Glover goes about his day, carrying his wooden guitar, singing and reinterpreting his latest singles. The infamously abnormal dance moves proceeded with “This Is America” in the middle of a factory. Then it hit me. Guava Island is essentially a “musical” to coincide and/or boost the promotional material of Gambino’s songs. Disagree? Well, he then proceeds to serenade Rihanna with “Summertime Magic” before winning my heart over with “Feels Like Summer”. A fundamental question then dawned on me. Can the artistic integrity of music be translated effectively to a narrative feature? Perhaps, but Guava Island is not a good example of that. The musical spirit of the island’s residents being suppressed by a totalitarian state is nothing new and, unfortunately, conveyed obviously. The relationship between capitalism and the affected individuals of its grotesque aftermath failed to empower. This is due to Glover’s self-indulgence blurring the clarity of the story. Rihanna’s Kofi and her relationship with Deni is almost non-existent, despite the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ introduction. These characters are so focussed on portraying eccentricity, that the dynamics between them fell flat. Glover’s frequent collaborator and older brother was unable to balance all aspects in such a condensed time constraint within his screenplay. It’s so “to the point” that it loses that flavoursome flair that makes Gambino the artist he is. That’s not to say the music isn’t catchy and Uzowuru’s rhythmic score won’t make you sway, as the musical aspect will have the biggest effect. The acting is serviceable, even if Glover can’t escape his exaggerated TV tendencies, and Sprenger’s cinematography is sublime. Unfortunately though, Murai’s inability to balance the film and rein in Glover’s overpowering talent taints Guava Island to be a drinkable albeit sour beverage.
Charming and poignant, this small, musical tale exudes Donald Glover's artistic integrity.