Needs a Bit More Ripening... But Overall Sweet
Donald Glover, also known as the "blerd" boy rapper Childish Gambino, dropped a short film for Coachella 2019 by the name of Guava Island, which Amazon Prime Video then released on April 13th, 2019, two days after the Coachella reveal. Written by his younger brother, Stephen Glover and co-starring Rihanna, Guava Island tells a unique 55 minute story of characters Deni and Kofi on a little island in the Caribbean oppressed by a brutish yet stylish villain, Red.
Deni (Glover), a lovable singer/songwriter, and seemingly the musical heart of Guava Island, wants to give the hardworking residents of the island a chance to celebrate life through music by having a festival. Unfortunately for Red, this means that the workers of his demanding silk and docks industries will have to miss work the next day. Kofi, Deni's girlfriend (Rihanna), has been watching Deni dream and love the island since their childhood, but has desires to leave the island and venture out for something more. She also has something important to tell Deni before his preempted music festival.
Without giving away the ending, Guava Island ends on an expected note, since the overall plot of the film is very simplistic in nature.
For my first viewing, I thoroughly loved it. As a Caribbean queen myself, I was thrilled to see a film of color telling a beautiful love story. Essentially, that's what Guava Island is, a little musical love story filled with a few cautionary notes. But then, as I perused the Twitter-scape to see any other common reactions to the film, I came across Gritty 2020 @GahrSEEuh, who asked, "Is it safe to be critical of Guava Island? ‘Cause what I wanna say is Stephen Glover gave me another reason not to like nepotism."
Ah, yes. Of course there were things kind of "off-key" with the film. I was willing to overlook them. But these off-key notes were not missed by most, as Guava Island earneda 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 64% on Metacritic but a substantial 7.1/10 for IMDB. Still, upon my second viewing, this is what we, Gritty 2020 and I, found to be troubling with the treble.
1. For starters, Rihanna doesn't sing.
And, when you really think about it, Rihanna doesn't do much of anything. Her role as Kofi serves only as a mere accessory to Glover's character, Deni, even though the story is being told by Kofi. She, as a character, offers no more than embarrassed glances to her paramours awkward dance moves and a comeback line to the story's villain, "We got our day." I'm pretty certain Rihanna has a total of 20 lines, and that's being generous. It leaves you to wonder why the character is even there.
2. "The music (didn’t seamlessly) weave together with the narrative. And, often felt forced... Example, the 'This is America' bit..." (Gritty).
Very reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, a film that served to give a narrative to Jackson's Smooth Criminal hit, Guava Island featured a few of Gambino's already released tracks like This is America and Summertime. Notably there a few other songs introduced, but are not released in an official way. But while the story followed its own narrative track, the random appearance of the songs and choreography didn't easily filter themselves in or really serve much purpose to the characters. It was just Gambino as Deni, who's a performer, that happened to sing Gambino songs.
3. The Accent-Less Gambino
The most obvious and suspension of disbelief is the fact that the story takes place in the Caribbean and everyone in the cast that speaks has a variation of an islander accent... except the main character, which... I guess is supposed to be from the island and has lived there all his life. Even Rihanna, who usually has a stronger accent, is toned down to some degree (but also she didn't talk much so even that is hard to gauge). Then there was a moment of relief that I was happy that Glover didn't try an accent. Not that it's not possible for him to learn one, but the choice altogether made Deni feel more out of place, especially with his knowledge about America in the This is America segment. Weird.
If out of 5 stars, I'd rate it a 3.5 critically, but truly a solid 4. Guava Island offered something refreshing and everyone on screen were people of color and they were all just simply telling a unique story about a boy on an island that loved it so much that he spread the love of music for the people. The story didn't hinder on their racial makeup at all and that, as well, was breath of fresh air. If anything, we need more short films of Guava Island, and as far as Donald Glover, I'm excited to see his continual evolution as an artist.