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Movie Review: 'Guava Island'


For the most part, a movie has to run at least 70-or-so minutes to play in theaters, preferably longer.

Meaning, plenty of movies that really ought to be shorter than that end up hurting themselves by adding unnecessary scenes or ruining the pacing. But, with the rise of streaming services producing and acquiring new work, we’re getting to a point where movies can be exactly as long as they need to be.

Take the new film Guava Island, from actor and musician Donald Glover: At 55 minutes, it would never get a wide theatrical release, but it’s on Amazon Prime, and no one could say it overstays its welcome.

The movie finds Glover living on a small island ruled by a man named Red Cargo, who basically forces the people into working for him, weaving clothing out of a sort of magical silk. Glover is a musician with a radio show, and stays in Red Cargo’s good graces by promoting his business with little jingles between songs. But, Glover wants to put on a music festival, which doesn’t go over so well with Cargo, who worries people won’t be able to work hard enough if they stay up too late enjoying themselves.

Guava Island tells its story through scenes from daily life paired with fantastical music sequences, all allowing Glover to be absurdly charming. Its style owes something to the neo-realism of African cinema, as well as to Marcel Camus’ great Brazilian film Black Orpheus, and its politics are pointed, suggesting life on the island may not be all that different from a certain other country.

I said we’re getting to where movies can be exactly as long as they need to be, but I actually wanted Guava Island to be longer. It has a lot to explore and just gives us a little taste. Oh, and did I mention it co-stars Rihanna? Who doesn’t sing? I’m happy we’re now giving filmmakers the chance to make movies the way they want to, but in this case, I wish they’d indulged themselves a little more.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.