The film opens with a stunning 4-minute animated credits sequence, introducing the cast and crew and also giving the viewer the background to where the film will open. In a sort of Emperor’s New Groove-esque montage, we learn how animated Donald Glover met animated Rihanna, and how they came to be lovers (he sung her a song from his balcony, it’s really effing cute). All of this, plus the fact that Rihanna is narrating the whole time, makes this one of the best film openings of the year.
7 WONDERS: GUAVA ISLAND
The best moments from Donald Glover’s stunning tropical musical.
The Opening Credits
Though Rihanna has notable acting credentials, having starred in the likes of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Ocean’s Eight and Bates Motel, this was the singer’s first lead role, and she inevitably did not disappoint. Playing the role of Glover’s love interest Kofi Novia, Rihanna carries off the role with ease, to the extent that you almost (almost!) forget that you are watching someone whose day job is being an international music sensation at work.
As the film opens, we are greeted with ‘A Childish Gambino Film’, and this sets the tone for the rest of Guava Island’s affinity for Glover’s musical alter-ego and his music. Twice we see pared back versions of Gambino songs. First, at Gambino’s character Denny’s workplace, we are treated to a lower-budget but just-as-captivating version of smash hit “This is America”, which involces Denny’s co-workers joining in the dance ensemble. Then, later, in what is probably the cutest / most sexy / best thing we’ve ever seen, Denny woos Kofi with an acoustic, steel-pan version of “Feels Like Summer”, that will be sure to have you sweating.
Though you may know her from Top Boy, or as Shuri in Black Panther, you’ll want to check out Letitia Wright’s turn in Guava Island too. Despite having a relatively small role, the British actor shines as Kofi’s friend and co-worker Yara Love, with her random outbursts of dance providing a welcome juxtaposition to the film’s main dramatic narrative. Wakanda forever!
Though set on a fictional island, Guava Island is shot in Cuba, with the island playing a huge role in the film. Visually, the audience is treated to a litany of luscious colours, pastel backdrops and natural greenery, with the surrounding ocean providing the perfect microcosm for the island’s simultaneous beauty and entrapment. The jovial nature of the extras drafted in for ensemble scenes gives the film a much-needed respite from the menacing backdrop, with dancing and singing in both English and Spanish throughout.
With Grammys, Emmys and the respect of practically everyone in any creative industry under his belt, it feels slightly redundant to point out the majestic talents of Guava Island‘s creator and protagonist, but we’re going to do it anyway. Glover is at his addictive best here, constantly moving from place to place or dance move to dance move, his character injected with the playful immaturity of Troy from Community, the occasional wistfulness of Atlanta‘s Earn, and the click-of-a-finger facial distortions seen in his early Comedy Central Stand-up show: Weirdo. Denny is in many ways a dream role for Glover, and it would be fascinating to see whether he will reprise the role in a sequel, or a different project altogether.
The Ending (Spoiler Alert)
If you’re reading this, it’s too late; you’ve probably seen in the above image that Glover’s character is killed by the oppressive ‘Red’ regime, in what is a shocking and heart-wrenching twist to the seemingly low-stakes 45 minutes that come before it. Denny is shot at in a mesmeric festival sequence (JUST WATCH HOW HE PLAYS WITH THE SOUND SORRY HE IS A GENIUS SORRY) and, following a brief chase sequence, is killed. The film does not end in tragedy however, Denny, Kofi and everyone else vindicated by the celebratory funeral-cum-street party that ensues, to memorialise Denny.