When Donald Glover and director Hiro Murai collaborate on a new project, expectations are of course sky-high.
After all, Murai has also directed many of the major episodes of Glover's Emmy-winning series "Atlanta" as a music video for "This Is America", the Grammy-winning song Glover was recorded as his musical alter ego Childish Gambino.
But with their first functional length effort, "Guava Island", you had the feeling that Glover and Murai were trying to dampen those expectations. The film, which enters a brisk 54 minutes, was shot in Cuba last year and kept under wraps until this week. It's not easy to do when your star is so famous and his love interest is played by Rihanna.
So what is this mystery project about? "Guava Island" is a music-driven template that follows Deni (Glover), a lucky lucky singer who believes music has the power to unite the grown-up citizens on his small island. He promises his girlfriend, Kofi (Rihanna), that he can write a song as beautiful as she is, even though Kofi is skeptical. "No song is so beautiful," she boasts. (Letitia Wright, also Shuri in "Black Panther" also appears, but she does not have many lines.)
The reason is small: A shady island tycoon named Red (Nonso Anozie) is trying to prevent Deni from putting on a music festival, which justifies that if people go and see the young man performing that evening, they are able to skip work at Red's sweat purchase the next day. And although Rihanna doesn't have much to do as Glover's boyfriend, the two at least share a spiky chemistry: Glover is eager to please while Rihanna is still hard to impress.
But the main attraction here is something that had been kept secret until Thursday evening screening: Glover uses "Guava Island" to restore and remix some of his greatest recent songs.
"America is a concept," Deni tells her co-workers before leading them in a rendition of "This Is America" New context finds many of the well-known and unpleasant dance movements of the video. Other musical sequences are set for Childish Gambino songs such as "Saturday" and "Summertime Magic", which are restored as a beachside serenade to Rihanna. (Alas, she's just a spectator instead of Glover's duet partner.)
Glover has said that "Guava Island" was inspired by movies as odd as "Purple Rain" and "City of God" , although it also shares a restless creative ambition with the latest visual albums from Janelle Monáe and Beyoncé. Monae will perform just before Glover on the Coachella scene Friday night, while Beyoncé dominated the festival last year with a career-thrilling performance captured for her upcoming Netflix documentary "Homecoming."
For top-tier artists looking to pronounce that stays no place like Coachella. But as "Guava Island" shows, at times you can say just as much about your intentions by skipping a blurred surprise on the road.