These days, the TV show runner is king, and it's rare for the director of TV show episodes to make enough of a mark for their name to stand out.
A rare exception is Hiro Murai, an acclaimed director of music videos who has been at the helm of episodes of Donald Glover's fantastic FX series “Atlanta.” Murai, who also directed Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) much-lauded "This is America" video last year, has crafted a beautifully unique look and feel for “Atlanta.” These past successes made me really look forward to what he could do when given the chance to direct a movie.
And now… he has. Recently, streaming lovers saw the surprise release of “Guava Island,” a new musical film directed by Murai that stars Glover and Rihanna. The film, which is only 56 minutes long, debuted at Coachella over the weekend and hit Amazon Prime immediately after the premiere.
“Guava Island” is odd, and at times feels like a goof. But it encapsulates the filmmaking style of Glover, Murai and Co., and I was entertained throughout.
The film, which begins with an animated intro, is set on the titular fictional island, though it was filmed in Cuba. Glover stars as Deni Maroon, a popular guitar musician on the island who resolves to host a music festival, but finds his plans foiled by an evil business tycoon played by actor Nonso Anozie, who featured on Season 2 of “Game of Thrones.”
With Glover in the lead, it’s not surprising that there are musical numbers, including a performance of “This is America.” What did come as a surprise, however, was that Rihanna does not sing.
There's not really any grand statement or purpose within. The film's primary virtues are the opportunity to see the multi-talented Glover do his thing and Murai's fine eye for scouting unique locations throughout Cuba. Needless to say, these locations have not been used often by Hollywood productions over the years. The action is shot in a retro 1:33-1 aspect ratio, in what looks like 16mm film.
“Guava Island probably won't go down as the most memorable, iconic or important work done by anyone involved with it, but it’s still an entertaining way to spend 56 minutes.”
Glover was just about everywhere this time last year. “This is America,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the second season of “Atlanta” and a well-received appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” all dropped within weeks of each other.
If nothing else, it's great to see Glover again for his annual takeover.
Rihanna has always been underrated as an actress. The 2017 sci-fi film “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” was essentially two hours of nonsense wrapped around a dynamite five-minute short film about Rihanna as a shape-shifting alien entertainer and Ethan Hawke as her handler. She's fine here, although she's not given much to do, and neither is Letitia Wright, who proved so memorable in “Black Panther.”
After viewing “Guava Island,” a major question needs to be asked: Why is superstar vocalist Rihanna in a musical but not given any musical numbers?
The film somewhat resembles “Masked and Anonymous,” the 2003 indie film that starred Bob Dylan as a rock star in a future dystopia interacting with various big-name stars. Neil Young starred in a similar film last year called “Paradox,” and I highly recommend firing it up on Netflix if you're looking for an unintentional laugh.
OK, so “Guava Island” probably won't go down as the most memorable, iconic or important work done by anyone involved with it, but it’s still an entertaining way to spend 56 minutes.
We'll give it: 3.5 out of 5.