Serving as the opening night film for the 2020 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, “David Byrne’s American Utopia” is Spike Lee’s vision of the former Talking Heads frontman’s wildly acclaimed 2019 Broadway show. “American Utopia” ran from last October to February 2020 at the Hudson Theatre, but now you can experience it on HBO and HBO Max on October 17. Check out the first teaser for the film for the below.
In this uniquely captured musical celebration set in a dreamworld of Byrne’s creation, his band of 11 musical artists from around the world perform hits from across his career, including songs from his 2018 album of the same name and classics like “This Must Be the Place” and “Everybody’s Coming To My House.” Also featured is a cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout.” As Byrne and company sing and dance across a glittering stage, the show preaches a world of unity, openness, optimism, faith in humanity, and social justice — surely all things most people could use right about now.
Included alongside the musical numbers are short monologues from Byrne that seek to underscore his message, and many of the sociopolitical issues he talks about include police brutality, voter turnout, climate change, and immigration. (Again, this could not be more timely, as the film arrives less than three weeks before the election on Tuesday November 3.) Finally, Byrne insists that we not only show up to the polls, but that we truly embrace the possibility of change. “Not just in the imperfect world out there,” he says, but in ourselves, too.
The show earned rave reviews during its Broadway run, with Variety calling “American Utopia” an “artistically stunning” and “surprisingly political tour de force.” “This jubilant production, choreographed by Annie-B Parson, transforms an icon of alienation into a cosmically cozy senior statesman,” wrote The New York Times. “He emerges as an avuncular, off-center shepherd to flocks of fans still groping to find their way. Like him, or the version of himself he presents here, they’re heading into the twilight, wondering why the hell they haven’t grown up yet.
This is Spike Lee’s second feature of the year, including his Netflix Vietnam War epic “Da 5 Bloods.”