David Byrne’s American Utopia begins with what is almost a caricature of the man himself. Infamously awkward and anxious, he delivers songs in his flinty wail, accompanied by dance moves so stiff and passionless they seem like a contractually-obliged chore.

But this is a brief deconstruction of the idea of performance, and the start of director Spike Lee’s narrative as Byrne grows into the joyous bandleader immortalised in Stop Making Sense. It’s almost like Byrne is parodying what is expected of him, before throwing himself into more fluid and natural moves as the film progresses. The idea of such transformation is key to American Utopia, with Byrne championing the idea of being comfortable in your own skin, but also allowing for growth. At one point he self-deprecatingly explains, “if I could dance better, well you know that I would. I’m working on my dancing, this is the best I can do.”

It can be clichéd to praise an artist as more relevant than ever, but Byrne does the work for you, adding context relating his songs to various political issues. His anxiety-ridden ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ is paralleled with immigration debates, and ‘Once in a Lifetime’ is staged as a beautiful cry of timeless despair amongst the chaos of our current political landscape.

Byrne clearly cares deeply about the issues he discusses in these more explicit political interludes, like immigration, getting out the vote, and police brutality towards Black people. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that they are bolted onto what is essentially a greatest hits concert.

As the performers parade through the crowd to the joyous refrain of ‘Road to Nowhere’, Byrne’s claim that we, and America, are a work in progress with the potential to change for the better has never felt more hopeful or possible.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: David Byrne, Chris Giarmo, Angie Swan, Jacqueline Acevedo

DIRECTOR: Spike Lee

WRITER: David Byrne

SYNOPSIS: Spike Lee documents the former Talking Heads frontman’s brilliant, timely 2019 Broadway show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name.