23 July 2020

Movie Review: "Guava Island" (2019)

I recently watched a 2019-released movie called Guava Island.  My wife picked up the DVD, and I don't want to use the word sneakily, but without notice she simply put it on.

Without any pretext or foreknowledge, I immediately decided right then and there that I was emphatically not going to watch a movie starring Rihanna and Donald Glover.  Because all I could imagine it to be was some 'chick flick' scenario where they are bickering throughout and ultimately get into situations that bring them closer together, to eventually have the film evolve into some canoodling, highly-saccharined, mushy love story, which at that particular moment in time I was not interested in - nor would likely be in the near future.  So after some brief deliberation about whether I was going to join her in viewing something I felt was a 'trap', I decided to give the film about a 5 to 10 minute look before deciding if it was worth my time.

Now let me be clear.  I consider myself to be a fairly-moderate fan of both RiRi and Donald Glover.  And I've been familiar with their musical and acting efforts throughout the years.

Rihanna, who burst upon the scene in the mid to late 2000s with her smash hit Umbrella (2007) caught my attention years ago with her seductive style and distinct melodious voice.  She would go on to make a string of other hip-hop and R&B anthems for her highly-devoted fans to enjoy to their hearts' content.  Commonly known as Jay-Z's talent discovery, Rihanna banged out hit after hit following Umbrella, increasing her visibility and broadening her audience year after year.

Until recently, Rihanna has enjoyed a solid 10+ year run as arguably the most-popular female musician in the world, with some of my personal favorites being Diamonds (2012) and a not as well-known tune, Man Down (2011), which has a very-interesting music video where she is shown being stalked by one of her fans in Jamaica.

Donald Glover, on the other hand, didn't exactly have a fresh-out-the-box hit like Rihanna enjoyed early on.  However, if you have ever looked closely at his career, he did not appear out of nowhere.

For me, my first experience in getting to know Glover came in the form of a TV show he was a part of called Community.  Admittedly I didn't watch many episodes.  But I distinctly recall the only one I did watch in full featured Donald, in a breakroom scene, awkwardly sitting across from LeVar Burton, appearing to not believe that he is actually sitting alone, face-to-face alone with the esteemed actor - aka Kunta KinteStar Trek's Geordi La Forge"butterfly in the sky"Reading Rainbow Burton.

In the scene, a speechless Glover (aka Troy Barnes) never seems comfortable in meeting LeVar, although there is a sense that deep down somewhere he admires him in an I'm-not-worthy-to-be-meeting-you kind of way, maybe?  Anyway it was a very-funny moment, and since then I started seeing Donald popup here and there, eventually changing his name to his equally well-known hip-hop moniker, Childish Gambino.

So with that being established, even though I was familiar with the two main actors of Guava Island, still I was not really interested in seeing them both on screen, because frankly the combination of them acting together didn't immediately appeal to me.  Yet in spite of my prejudiced feelings about the flick I attempted to watch it, hoping that I was not setting myself up for tremendous disappointment or a reaction that would ruin my impression of these two artists.  And here's what I thought upon actually viewing it.

First of all, it does not start off like an ordinary film. The first scene and credits' sequence is actually animated, which simultaneously gives pretext to what the movie is about and how the two main characters are connected.  Guava Island itself is a fictional setting, although clearly the locale is in the Caribbean.  And it is not a far-fetched to deduce that it may even be set on a small island off the coast of West Africa.

In any case we have a story about a musician, Deni Maroon (played by Glover), who lucked out on a big hit song that all of the children and other people on the island adore him for.  He is truly the musical champion of the country, whom the residents tune into on their fuzzy, scratchy transistor radios, just to catch a brief moment of enjoyment via their favorite musician during the day.

Rihanna, who portrays Kofi Novia, takes on a supporting actor role to Glover.  The couple are lovebirds, and her relationship with him makes her the envy of all of her girlfriends at work at a seamstress factory.  And although Deni is considered a superstar on the tiny island, he is still very poor and must work a factory job to make ends meet. 

The crux of the story is structured around the suspense of a decision Glover must make in terms of playing a concert for the island under the repressive rule of the nation's business magnate, Red Cargo.  Said character is portrayed very well by a British actor named Nonso Anozie, who I have never heard of before this.

Red Cargo does not want the concert to take place because it is scheduled for a Saturday night.  And in his mind, if the event is held the people will be too exuberant and exhausted to report to work the following Sunday.  So Deni is given stern warnings that if he defiantly holds the performance anyway, there will be swift consequences.

In the interest of not giving too much of the story away, I will end there by saying that overall this is a good movie to watch and was highly-entertaining, to my surprise.  There is a lot of music woven throughout, almost classifying it as a musical, although I would  not go as far as listing it as such.

There is much to be said for the costumes and other wardrobe worn that add to the flick's appeal.  I was also impressed with the way Rihanna played her role as being devoted to Glover, even though she got stepped to by Red Cargo himself.

The only negative thing I have to say about Guava Island is that up until one crucial scene in particular, it could be considered a movie for kids.  And because of that one horrifyingly-violent moment close to the end, I'd have to say that the movie should not be viewed by children or at the very least that particular section should be fast-forwarded if they are watching it.

But conclusively, Guava Island is an art film that is likely to be cherished and critiqued for years to come.

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