Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Guava Island is not good. It’s ungood. It’s no bueno. Borderline turrible. It’s a 55-minute music video incorporating Childish Gambino songs and featuring Rihanna looking forlorn with gorgeous eyes and beautiful gowns. That’s it. That’s really all it is. It shouldn’t work. It mostly doesn’t work. However, somehow… in the hands of Donald Glover and Hiro Murai, it’s still watchable. Which shouldn’t make any sense. I know.
Let’s start with the premise, shall we? Guava Island stars Glover as singer Deni Maroon and Rihanna as his love interest Kofi Novia. It’s a day in the life of the two as Deni plans a music festival that evening against the wishes of the island’s dictator, Red Cargo. Deni, you see, is the island’s star musician, and he works part time for the state-run radio station slinging jingles touting Red as the thing to be. Kofi works in a sweat shop during the day as a seamstress, making dresses out of the island’s main resource: blue silk.
So that’s really all you need to know. That’s what screenwriter Stephen Glover gave us to work with. The rest is a glorified Childish Gambino music video. And no, don’t think Lemonade when you think of this. Think of it as guava juice, which is slightly sweeter than lemonade, but definitely not as satisfying. In the way Beyoncé‘s visual album was tightly conceived and executed, Guava Island isn’t. At all.
So what works? A few things. The landscape is gorgeous. The project was shot in Cuba last summer and features everything that’s lovely about the territory. Murai did a great job capturing sunsets and scenery, which serves as a necessary distraction from the lack of plot. Letitia Wright is a welcome sight on screen as well, breathing life into every scene in which she appears. She’s Kofi’s best friend, holder of secrets, rager against the machine, dancer when guards aren’t looking. It was great seeing her smile and penchant for turnup.
Of course, the songs work. It was interesting seeing a new visual for “This Is America,” even though how we got to the visual was downright ridiculous. “America is a concept,” Deni says to one of his co-workers. Cue the music! Ugh. The Glover brothers could’ve done much better with that unsubtle transition. Still, hearing Glover belt out that song, along with his hits “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer” was worth the visit to Guava Island. And honestly, it’s one of the only reasons the film was made.
The OTHER reason? Rihanna. My goodness. No, her acting hasn’t gotten any better. And there was no real chemistry between her and Glover. With that said, in a film that was all about the visuals, she was visually stunning. Like, breathtakingly gorgeous. Her eyes seemed a little bit lighter, her walk a little bit more sensual. Everything about her presence seemed a little bit more heightened. Lovely. Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen her in a while. Maybe Cuba brought out her features more. Or maybe she’s just beautiful. Annnnnd it helped that we didn’t have to hear her sing. Heh.
Listen, I’m glad Glover is taking advantage of every platform available to express himself creatively. He’s a true triple threat and is the future of artistry, with so much more to give. Making this project is just proof that every project won’t be magical. Or necessary. Or even good. And that’s OK. At least we get to stare at Rihanna for an hour, see Shuri’s smile, and hear the songs that are a huge part of an artist’s evolution.
For Your Saturday: It’s definitely cool if you decide to visit Guava Island. Just be thankful that you won’t have to stay for long.
Guava Island stars Donald Glover, Rihanna and Letitia Wright and is directed by Hiro Murai.
The film is currently streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.