Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
David Byrne’s American Utopia is a joyous expression of art, empathy, and compassion. It is the
intersection of two artists—Spike Lee and David Byrne—who have been interrogating how we
connect through art for decades. Thirty-six years ago, Byrne and the Talking Heads band made
one of the best concert films of all time in Jonathan Demme’s landmark Stop Making Sense. It
feels like such a gift to get this bookend in 2020 when we often felt like we’re further apart than
ever. Nothing made sense anymore. And here comes David Byrne, a man examining connection
and the individual role in community through his incredible music, staging it in a way that
reminds us that human expression is our most valuable commodity.
Byrne and Brian Eno wrote the album American Utopia and released it to positive reviews in
2018. However, it was the subsequent Broadway show in 2019 that really gave this project
international attention. Playing at the Hudson in late 2019, the show incorporated most of
Byrne’s latest album with other songs from his career, including Talking Heads hits like “Once in
a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “This Must Be the Place.” A hybrid of a traditional
concert performance with musical theatre choreography and even echoes of performance art,
American Utopia earned raves on stage, and Lee decided to direct a film version of the show.
Byrne surrounds himself with an incredibly talented collection of performers, eleven in total,
who serve as the “band” for American Utopia. They are dancers, singers, musicians, and
collaborators—people moving around Byrne in a way that highlights him and creates a larger
sense of performance. The choreography is mesmerizing, the musicianship is remarkable, and
the sense of joy bursts off the screen.
Byrne’s music and Lee’s craftsmanship work together to shake people out of complacency in
multiple ways—find your joy, find your outrage, find something. In a year in which apathy has
been easier to slide into, just seeing something this vibrantly alive feels like a miracle.