Guava Island Review

Ella Stevens 5.1.2019
Donald Glover and Rihanna staring in their new film, Guava Island. (photo: The Atlantic)

Donald Glover is a certifiable genius. His shows, his music, his stand up comedy; all brillant. In recent years Glover has appeared in numerous movies, released critically acclaimed music, and created the brilliant comedy/drama, Atlanta. Atlanta is a beautiful show, visually and otherwise, so when I heard that Glover and the creators of Atlanta were coming out with a movie, I was beyond pumped. Unfortunately Glover’s new movie, Guava Island, is a lackluster mess.

Guava Island was written by Donald and Stephen Glover, two fantastic writers, yet somehow they managed to write possibly the worst screenplay I’ve ever seen. There’s lazy narration, unbelievable character motivations, and subtext is completely overlooked.

Guava Island starts out with Glover’s costar, Rihanna (who is criminally underutilized) reading a solid four minutes of narration about how the Island was created and how Rihanna’s character, Kofi, met Glover’s Dani. This is already a clunky and lazy exposition dump, but given the runtime of the movie, it makes absolutely no sense. Guava Island is only 53 minutes long, much shorter than a full feature film. It’s beyond me why Glover wouldn’t just put the whole narration part into the movie and have it be a normal length instead of boring us right off the bat with a boring chunk of exposition.

Throughout the movie the writing continues to be lazy, unrealistic, and nonsensical, including an entire minute of Donald Glover making strange faces and a plot that revolves around Dani and Kofi making unrealistic choices.

During the unnecessary narration, Rihanna explains that Guava Island used to be a serene tropical paradise until the Red Cargo company turned it into a factory town where everyone weaves the silk of beautiful blue caterpillars. According to Rihanna, Dani wants to write a song that will bring the people of the island together. However a good bit of the movie is him running around town saying hi to people and elbow bumping guards, so who exactly needs to be brought together is unclear.

It turns out Dani’s plan was to throw a music festival that would give the workers on Guava some freedom from their factory work, but this was barely explained in the movie. Red, the owner of the company, doesn’t want Dani to throw this festival because if the workers go to it, they’ll be too tired to work the next day. Red offers to pay Dani to cancel the festival, then breaks his guitar so he can’t play. Glover’s performance in this scene is so bland we have no idea what Dani is thinking. Is he happy to get the money? Is he at all conflicted? Does he feel threatened? Who knows? All he does is sit in a chair and look at a bird.

The biggest flaw in the film however is the lack of communication between characters. When Kofi and Dani meet for lunch he doesn't tell her anything about his meeting with Red. There’s nothing stopping him from talking to her about it, and you’d think he’d want to tell her since they’re in love and all, but instead he sings while dancing around. Meanwhile Kofi is pregnant and wanting to tell Dani, but she inexplicably doesn't. The characters don’t tell each other the things they clearly should, all for the sake of adding tension to an underdeveloped plot.

Guava Island promised to be a musical, which should of been promising seeing as it was starring Donald Glover and Rihanna, two great musicians. However Rihanna doesn't sing a single note, leaving all the musical numbers to Glover.

Almost none of the songs were original to the movie. They were all just alternate versions of Glover’s pre existing music. There was a version of “Feels Like Summer”, “Summertime Magic”, and a completely out of place performance of “This is America.” It was all quite self indulgent, and a total waste of an opportunity to release good new music.

After Glover has lunch with Rihanna, he heads to church where he finds two kids singing one of his songs. Apparently this is enough to convince him to play the festival after all. Of course this has no impact because it barely took any convincing to get him not to play the festival. Anyway the fact that Dani is in fact playing at the festival pisses Red Cargo off, so he chases him off stage and shoots him in a dark and undeniably pretty scene that is the closest Guava Island ever comes to Atlanta’s twisted beauty.

In the end all the workers take off work to go to the funeral, thus thwarting Red Cargo and achieving Dani’s goal of getting the workers a day off.

This movie was not good. The writing was lazy, the plot was incoherent, and the opportunity to release good music was squandered. Above all else it was self indulgent. It was an hour of Donald Glover thinking we wanted to see him dance around for no reason. Guava Island may have made a splash at Coachella where it premiered, but now that people are watching it at home, sober and not about to see a Childish Gambino concert, Guava Island is starting to be recognized for what it is, a half baked mess.