Last summer, Donald Glover snuck off to Cuba to create something – a feature film collaboration, at least rumors had said, based on scant information other than a photo of Glover and Rihanna. posed during the production of their mysterious project “Guava Island”.
Creation is what Glover does best, constantly redefining audiences’ ideas about what they are capable of and how they choose to express themselves: from his roots as a cartoonist (the Derrick Comedy troupe) and a comedy writer (in as a story writer on “30 Rock”) to an already vast acting career (which took off with “Community” and enabled his work as creator, showrunner and star of the FX series “Atlanta”), Glover is constantly inventing, then retreating when the momentum seems greatest to try his hand at a new challenge.
This could explain the otherwise puzzling plan to pull down his most popular creation to date, the Childish Gambino falsetto hip-hop alter ego. Now, after eight months of speculation on what this secret film could be like brewing in the background of Childish Gambino’s latest tour, the secret is out: On Thursday, Glover finally unveiled ‘Guava Island’ at Coachella, leaving him behind. serve as the dramatic stage headliner for its Friday headlining show at the music festival. Hours after Childish Gambino took the stage, Amazon took part in what was shaping up to be a cultural event, streaming the film for free for 18 hours on Saturday, after which it could only be seen through their Amazon Prime subscription service. .
No matter what Glover fans had in mind, “Guava Island” may not be what they expected. At just 55 minutes, the film serves as a shorter and tighter “Purple Rain,” an auto-mythological origin story from the artist formerly known as Childish Gambino, reintroduced here as Deni Maroon. A rambling reggaeton romeo, Deni is determined to impress his childhood sweetheart Kofi Novia (Rihanna) via the perfect song. Prince may have been an inspiration, but the musically led film “Guava Island” is more like that Jimmy Cliff classic, “The Harder They Come”, positioning Deni as a similar rebel hero, risking his life to launch a feel-good music festival on an island where a thug named Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie, who plays his nastiness like a vicious charm) forces everyone to work seven days a week in his sweatshops.
Co-designed and directed by “Atlanta” collaborator Hiro Murai, “Guava Island” contains less music than one might expect, but opens and ends with a new song, launching an animated prologue of five minutes with the optimistic Caribbean-infused ballad “Dying With You. The accompanying visuals are bright, nostalgic pop-art of a picture book, presented in an almost square aspect ratio, square like an old television set , against which Rihanna tells the tale of Guava Island (which resembles Hispaniola in shape, and which is similarly divided in the center) and her own character’s lifelong wish to leave this fallen paradise .
Acting as a comedy has never been Rihanna’s strong suit, and when the film touches her, it’s impossible to ignore one of the fundamental limitations of “Guava Island”: that she should really sing, rather than sing. to be reduced to playing the love of Deni. Maybe that was the plan at one point. Granted, there are places in the film where Rihanna’s songs could have gone, including an awkward cut halfway through her “Summertime Magic” serenade as she should have responded to Deni, potentially transforming the catchy single. but familiar from mid-2018 into a more robust duo. . Instead, we see her mostly dreaming about their future with the escape of “Black Panther” Letitia Wright.
Like everyone else on the island, Deni is forced to toil for Red Cargo, which allows the shirtless young rascal to play his songs on the radio twice a day because he loves the propagandist anthem Deni sings to keep happy workers. Audiences who know and have tried unboxing Glover’s endless “This Is America” clip (re-staged here with updated choreography of zombie-like black adults in crude red coveralls) will recognize the irony: “Red Cargo” represents the sort of sale – the gesture the singer had previously criticized, even though his mixture of hinged scarecrows and exaggerated minstrel scowl – parodies of body language used by early black artists to United States – feels slightly out of place on a Caribbean island.
Glover couldn’t have foreseen how Jordan Peele would take those same crimson suits and make them evil in his movie “Us”, nor could he have imagined that “Guava Island” would fall on the same day as the Los Angeles rapper’s funeral. Nipsey Hussle. . And yet, these coincidences give a strange resonance to the project, which plugs directly into the zeitgeist, responding to the conflict with a call for love.
With all this retirement talk, does this film mark the end of Childish Gambino? How could he, as this elaborate Coachella stunt lands at the height of his success. If anything, he is reborn here in another character, and just as quickly martyred. As an artist, Glover may be fully committed to reinvention, but characters like Childish Gambino and Deni Maroon can’t be erased so easily. “Guava Island” illustrates this beautifully, not only by exposing the challenges creative personalities face in this culture, but also showing how their legacies are carried on.