Kevin Sintumuang in Esquire:
David Byrne’s American Utopia begins with the sound of birds for close to a minute before revealing the singer, seated alone at a desk, holding a human brain. Otherwise, the stage is empty, save for a curtain composed of hundreds of thin metal chains that line the walls and shimmer like streaks of rain. As in Stop Making Sense, the 1984 Talking Heads concert film, band members emerge as the show progresses. They, like Byrne, are dressed in gray suits, with no shoes, no socks. It’s a stripped-down look for a show that is as cerebral and subtly political as it is raucous and joyful. Byrne wrote or cowrote almost every song in it—a few are from his 2018 album of the same name, and about half are familiar Talking Heads tunes, including a version of “Once in a Lifetime” that’s somehow even more poignant than the original. But it’s a cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” one of American Utopia’s last songs, that becomes its soul. In between, Byrne muses, philosophically and humorously, on whether babies are smarter than grown-ups and why people are more interesting to look at than, say, a bag of potato chips.
In the summer of 2019, before the start of the show’s run on Broadway, Byrne had the idea to adapt it for the screen. He invited Spike Lee, whom he’d been friendly with for years, to attend previews, then asked whether he’d like to direct. Lee loved the show—and the idea. The result, which comes out on HBO in mid-October, is not a glorified theatrical recording. It’s a real film.