Late Saturday night, the Coachella YouTube Live-streams broadcast, across all 3 channels, Guava Island – A Childish Gambino Film. It is definitely one of the most unique, unusual films this year and I loved it. In this post, I will be explaining what the project is and reviewing it. I will also be avoiding spoilers. I will, however, include a few small things such as the sound track that, if you’re a big Gambino fan or are particularly excited about the film (and still haven’t seen it), you may want to avoid.
Performances and Casting
Considering how small the scale of this project is, it really brings in an impressive cast. Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino (Atlanta, Solo: A Star Wars Story) heads up the project along side his brother Stephen Glover (Atlanta, SNL) and Hiro Murai (Atlanta, Legion). Murai also notably worked with Glover in several Gambino music videos including Sweatpants and This is America. The film also brings in stars such as Rihanna (Battleship, Ocean’s 8) and Letitia Wright (Black Panther, Black Mirror – Black Museum). All of the performances delivered in the film are perfect but I feel like they were not particularly complex, difficult parts to play in comparison to the actors’ other works (other than maybe Glovers’s character of Deni).
Screenplay and Direction
As is always the case with any project that Glover works on with is brother and Hiro Murai, the screenplay and direction focus more on concepts than dialogue but the dialogue is far from flawed. It is quick and witty but remains natural without feeling weird or forced. The music is smoothly worked into the project but, though it is flawlessly executed and shows some great variations on Gambino’s work, I feel like it makes the project feel a little confused as to what it is. This is not an issue in itself because the project remains cohesive and it even enhances how creative and unique the project really is. If you are, however, not particularly open to films that are more interested in artistic creativity than pure entertainment, this may not be for you.
Technicals and Music
This film doesn’t quite stand as a musical but does have elements of that worked in. The plot follows Deni (Glover) as he puts together a music festival for the island that he lives on. Therefore, most of the music is diegetic and therefore written by Gambino as his character. I loved the soundtrack but, to be fair, I am a big Gambino fan in the first place. Also, before you watch, it would probably be worth familiarising yourself with some of Gambino’s most recent work.
As so much of this project is brilliantly creative and perfectly executed, I feel like the editing is a little underrated. Especially for the music-oriented parts, the editing seals together the sequences where, had it been at all faulty, it could have ruined them. This is, of course, helped by the brilliantly choreographed musical sequences (and the cinematography that goes with that). The whole film, much like Atlanta, (probably thanks to the efforts of Hiro Murai) feels like a Childish Gambino music video crossed with a Cuban version of his Coachella performance.
If you want to go into the project completely blind, it might be worth skipping to the next paragraph (though I’m not revealing any plot points). The film opens with a small animation that sets up the history of the world in which the story takes place. This animation is very reminiscent of anything done by Cartoon Salon but has a distinctly Caribbean feel to it. It not only sets up the world and character backstory, but also sets an aesthetic theme for the film.
Finally, the costumes and set design for the project perfectly capture the feel of the Caribbean and set a vibe that allows Gambino to show some variation on his recent work (falling into more of a STN MTN / Kauai type vibe).
This project is very different from anything I’ve seen on the big screen. It holds some unique space outside of any specific genre and immerses you in a world perfectly, despite the surreal, musical feel the film sometimes takes on. I would 100% recommend it to any fan of Glover or Gambino, or anyone that is simply interested in film from more of an artistic standpoint. If your largely interested in the project because of Rihanna or because it aired at Coachella, this film may not be for you (though if you’re interested in the music, it’s a must watch).