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Parents' Guide to

David Byrne's American Utopia

By Marty Brown, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 12+

Brilliant, uplifting performance is optimistic about America

Movie NR 2020 105 minutes
David Byrne's American Utopia Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 12+

Based on 1 parent review

age 12+

Thrilling! Inspiring! Phenomenal performance by David Byrne and direction by Spike Lee!

What an experience to introduce the little ones to this wonderful singer and see them tapping along to this great talent! A fun, politically inspiring musical good time! The entire family will enjoy! There’s an F bomb around :50 in, so be wary of that but otherwise, bravo!!!

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say: (1 ):
Kids say: Not yet rated

David Byrne, perhaps best known for spastically dancing in a gigantic suit, is often thought of as a quirky performer. He can come off like a socially awkward introvert who is more comfortable observing others than being observed. That's part of his charm. And yet, what seem like quirks are often artistic choices that contain hidden layers of meaning. What sounds like a gibberish chant might actually be an homage to a German dadaist poet who used gibberish to help make sense of the otherwise unfathomable rise of the Nazi party. In American Utopia, Byrne explains how that poet, Kurt Schwitters, "used nonsense to make sense of a world that didn't make sense."

For those familiar with Byrne, American Utopia will feel like a companion piece to the Talking Heads' seminal 1994 concert film Stop Making Sense, easily one of the most joyful movies ever made. But he might be working in an even higher artistic register here. He weaves together songs from throughout his catalogue -- many of which deal with themes of home, feeling safe where one lives, and sharing one's home with others -- as a opportunity to gently talk about the present American moment. Topics include voter turnout, police violence, and immigration. As he introduces the international members of his band, he makes sure to mention that he is himself a naturalized citizen, originally from Scotland. "We're all immigrants," he says, and it's clear he didn't name the show American Utopia arbitrarily. H's a true believer in America, in the idea of the country as a melting pot, as a work in progress. He truly believes that America can and should be a place where everyone feels safe and at home, in spite of the turmoil the country is currently experiencing. The music, choreography, and performance all reinforce his optimism, coming together to make a small amount of sense in a world that often doesn't.

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