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film review

David Byrne, right, in a scene from 'David Byrne's American Utopia.'The Associated Press

  • David Byrne’s American Utopia
  • Directed by Spike Lee
  • Classification N/A; 105 minutes


Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

By capturing a 2019 performance of David Byrne’s Broadway show with grace and style to spare, Spike Lee delivers a film that transcends a simple cast recording, à la this past summer’s Disney+-fied Hamilton. From its joyful and exuberant opening half to a late-game moment of deep and sombre introspection, Lee’s version of American Utopia is thoughtful pop performance art captured with the propulsive power of cinema. When it premiered at a drive-in during last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, I just about thought 2020 might be saved after all.

As a grey-suited and impressively lithe Byrne tiptoes around the stage, a group of similarly clad dancers and musicians behind him executing a choreography best described as “ironic,” the concert-slash-film deftly shifts in mood and purpose. A house party, then a science lesson, then a cultural essay, then a political protest. But always – always – with a fierce rhythm and energy unique to the 68-year-old, eternally impossible-to-classify Byrne.

It is tempting to compare and contrast Lee’s work here with Jonathan Demme’s iconic 1984 Byrne chronicle Stop Making Sense, but any time spent doing so will be wasted. These are two different visions for two different Byrnes in two different eras. Both burn down the house, in their own way.

David Byrne’s American Utopia is available to stream on Crave starting Oct. 17

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