Review: David Byrne’s American Utopia

Directed by Spike Lee and written by star David Byrne, documents the former Talking Heads frontman’s timely 2019 Broadway show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name. Also starring: Tendayi Kuumba, Mauro Refosco, Chris Giarmo and Daniel Freeman.

The biggest question that comes to mind when diving into this film is do you need to be a David Byrne or Talking Heads fan to like it? And when you first start watching, it feels sincerely in the affirmative, but give it time and it draws you in. There’s a surprisingly comforting quality to the film, there’s a number of different layers to the show as a whole but it has such a lively, open and friendly energy that you can’t help but to be enamoured by it.

Shooting a show in a theatre presents a number of challenges to film it in such a way that it feels more than just a recording but Spike Lee was certainly the person for the job, he has a lovely inventive use of angles to bring you right into the action. It makes the show feel like more than just a performance and really draws out the infectious choreography. The style of shooting and the rhythm of the music and dance all blend perfectly, it makes the songs feel more interactive, especially when mixed with Byrne’s talking portions which draw out the more relevant and poignant message to his show. The style is unusual yet familiar, it almost has the edge of an ‘In Conversation With’ show but there’s something more of a community spirit to it, the focus isn’t on Byrne but on the experience and the message, which has a wonderfully wholesome, kind spirit to it.

Byrne is incredibly charismatic, his stage presence is quite something to watch and certainly a factor of why you don’t need to be an existing fan to enjoy this film. He’s also backed by a number of great performers and musicians who genuinely expand the personality of the show with the theatricality and emotion that they translate into a visual experience rather than necessarily audibly. Possibly one of the most interesting elements of the show is how it eases you into the larger political conversation that it’s having which sincerely creates an emotional experience as it nears its finale, making the entire experience even more memorable.

David Byrne’s American Utopia is a strange little bundle of joy, it’s infectious, exuberant and lifting with a surprisingly impactful message about society’s pitfalls. The combination of Spike Lee’s direction and David Byrne’s stage presence, as well as his fantastic ensemble, creates a wonderful experience that you can’t help but to be entranced by. It’s undeniably odd in style compared with most shows of this nature but it creates something unique, memorable and highly entertaining.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival
Available on Digital 14th December – Coming to DVD on 11th January

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