Guava Island plays out as masculine fantasy, fueled by artistic hubris and an odd fixation with traditional gender roles. Deni wants to get the island back to the way it was, but it's unclear as to how he knows what it used to be like and how he can bring it back. There are no scenes where Deni is given a vision of the past that compels him to change the future. He does it simply because he is the de facto protagonist, despite the fact that Kofi is our only real window into the mythology of Guava Island. Kofi seems to be intentionally sidelined, robbing the film of its rightful protagonist in favor of a male character. Kofi's connection to the island is much more believable than Deni's. It's a much quieter, more understanding love. As Kofi, Rihanna channels a nurturing spirit, giving everything to her small, mostly symbolic role. As Glover overacts, Rihanna displays a quiet comfort with the material. As an artist from Barbados, Rihanna displays a much more intuitive relationship with Caribbean culture. Knowing this, it's especially criminal that her character doesn't sing a single note in the film.
Ultimately, Guava Island feels like a compromise between the extended music video it clearly is and the feature film it desperately wants to be. Compare Guava Island to last year's Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe's film with a shorter runtime that manages to showcase both a boundary-breaking album and a radical queer sci-fi narrative with images that meld perfectly with the music it attempts to represent. In contrast, Guava Island is a meandering 55 minutes, introducing characters it refuses to develop in service of an unconvincing hero narrative. Murai provides viewers with a lush color palette but is otherwise subdued behind the camera. The movie looks too straightforward to be fantasy and too undercooked to be taken seriously.
Guava Island's most damning sin is that it's unconvincing -- both aesthetically and in its assertion of Deni as a selfless, romantic, revolutionary hero. In the end, the only character worth caring about is Kofi. It's unfortunate the filmmakers couldn't see that.