A new lane has opened up this morning, as Amazon released its original film Guava Island. It is an island based thriller from the trio behind FX’s hit TV show Atlanta. Creator and lead star Donald Glover, writer Stephen Glover and director Hiro Murai bring us a small, but well crafted, film about a young musician named Deni who lives on the small island of Guava. Glover plays an ambitious and charismatic islander with a dream in his heart. He hopes to one day unite the island people with his music. The island is not always the happiest place, as it is run by Red. Red is a dictator of sorts, he is the island’s gang leader and business manager. Everyone on the island works for Red Cargo. Either on the docks or in the crafting shops, natives work everyday to keep his business booming. Kofi, played by award winning singer Rihanna, is Deni’s muse for whom he has spent most of their upbringing writing her the perfect song. The film is a refreshing change from the crazy, big budget action films we see so much of these days. It takes a calm and delicate approach to the musical film genre, fusing Caribbean music and hip hop through the works of Childish Gambino. It is only a 55 minute movie and is definitely worth your time.
Spoilers ahead for Guava Island:
Deni is the island’s local radio musician. He keeps the people’s spirits high as they work these long hours. Glover’s portrayal of Deni is not too different from his normal personality and it fits rather well with the tone of the film. He is a charming goofball who is serious about his artistry. He’s got the wit and personality to literally talk his way out of getting mugged. His girlfriend Kofi dreams of one day getting off of the island, but he wishes to stay and create a song that will bring everyone there closer in harmony. Glover is probably the most American sounding of all of the characters in the movie, slipping in and out of his Caribbean accent from time to time, but his sheer innocence and playfulness in the role really makes it so you don’t notice it much.
The first musical number in the film is the movie’s theme “Die With You.” The movie gets a very stylized art animation for it’s opening credits, somewhat like the animation for “Almost There” in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. It sets a light and tropical tone for the film and introduces the main elements of the story through some narration by Rihanna. The second number is a short piece called Red’s Cargo, which Deni plays on his radio show as some appeasement to the big man in charge. It is somewhat of a jingle for Red’s business that Deni uses to keep himself in the good graces of the leader. Deni announces his festival that will be happening in the streets of Guava tonight, Saturday. Letitia Wright, of Black Panther fame, plays Kofi’s co-worker. She loves Deni’s music and a lot of the story development is told through her character.
After his radio show, Deni goes to work at the docks where he continues to get people on board for the festival. Many workers disagree saying they must not miss work the next Sunday morning if they wish to make money and move to America. Deni implores them that anywhere we can make our lives the best for us is America. In this case, this is America. The third musical number is Childish Gambino’s socially aware hit song This Is America which is musically backed by some well timed machinery sounds. Glover finds a way to fuse a few of his previously released music in a cohesive story that really works super well. Deni is taken to Red’s office where he is paid a stack of cash and told to cancel the festival. He feels the Saturday night show will cause workers to stay home on Sunday morning, and cannot have production slow down even a little bit. Deni initially refuses and his guitar is smashed in half. Deni makes his way to his picnic lunch date with Kofi, where he keeps the threat to himself and instead tells her he finally finished her perfect song. It is Childish Gambino’s 2018 hit Summertime Magic. Glover performs in such a manner that is really unique and interesting. For anyone who has seen the This Is America video, you are familiar with the weird faces and awkward dances he does. It is used as a device to lift Kofi’s spirits as she is a bit frustrated in the scene that Deni won’t tell her what is wrong. By the time she is back at work, word has traveled that Red is trying to get Deni to cancel the festival. Yara, Letitia Wright’s character, tells Kofi and she grows nervous as we learn she was apprehensive in the previous scene because she is pregnant and is unsure how to tell Deni. She begins to worry as Deni gets on the radio and announces the festival is still on after performing another of Glover’s recent hits, Feels Like Summer.
Kofi tries to intercept Deni before the show, but is found by Red who tells her that Deni will “break a leg” out there. Yikes. Kofi worries that Deni may have already been killed by Red’s men, but he is up on stage performing the film’s final number Saturday. In an energetic and upbeat performance, Kofi notices a masked man in the crowd who aims and takes a shot an Deni. Ultimately, the gunman corner’s Deni and kills hit while he gazes upon a lone bluebird in the distance.
The film is pretty powerful and definitely enjoyable. The remixed versions of the songs really match the island theme and Glover gets to show off some of those acting chops we are all so fond of. He film has a fitting end as well, with Red’s next morning. He awakes and heads to the docks where no workers can be found. The sewing houses are empty as well. Everyone on the island skipped working to hold a funeral and parade for Deni, the man who gave them so much joy in their daily lives. In the end, Deni achieved his dream of uniting the island and Red did more damage to production by killing the passionate musician.
If you haven’t caught any of Atlanta on FX you are sadly missing out. While the first season is a fresh look at some really awkward situation and hilarious comedy, the second season is truly something to marvel at. The show has grown into a self-contained work of art telling some complex yet relatable stories, even if you’re not from the A.