Monday, January 21, 2019

Movie Review: Fyre

Fyre **** / *****
Directed by: Chris Smith
Written by: Chris Smith
I didn’t hear about the Fyre Festival until we started to see social media posts go viral the weekend of the actual festival, when everything went so horribly wrong. That sad sandwich, with the cheese, those awful looking tents- and a lot of rich millennials going on twitter to complain that they spent thousands of dollars on nothing. It was, then, a funny story in many ways – in large part because it seemed like the only victims were rich people, and they really lost was a little money they may well get back anyway. The festival was such a disaster that it really did become the stuff of legend – as everyone from late night comedians to random twitter users had an opportunity to dunk on everyone involved – and did they ever. What makes Chris Smith’s Fyre – the new Netflix documentary – valuable then is to peel back the curtain, look at precisely what went wrong and why it went wrong – and also provide a little more context, and a look at some of the victims who this festival truly did hurt. And no, it was not those rich millennials.
The central figure in the documentary is also the only one note interview – Billy McFarland (he is interviewed, and was paid for that interview, in the other Fyre documentary – Fyre Fraud – released by Hulu last week – but like every other Hulu documentary, it isn’t available here in Canada or I would have watched it) who was seen by many as a genius entrepreneur, who ideas just could not fail. He made his name on a credit card company – Magnises – that made their cards out of metal, and promised all sorts of perks and discounts for rich kids in New York. His next company was going to be Fyre – an ap that allowed you to book high end talent for your event. He partnered with Ja Rule, who may not have quite been high end talent at that point – but was also likely the highest end that would be willing to perform at your bar mitzvah for the right price. The whole Fyre Fest was supposed to essentially be a huge launch party for the ap. They were to get an island in the Bahamas, get a lot of musical acts and supermodels down there, and a lot of millennials with a lot of cash to burn to come down and party all weekend. What could go wrong?
Everything. Everything went wrong. And for the most part, it was the result of hubris. McFarland hired models to come down and shoot a promo video for the festival, before he did practically anything else. If you’re going to have thousands of people on a small island who expect luxury accommodations, how would you do that? How would you feed them? Where will they sleep? Where will they go to the bathroom? Where will the stage be? How will get there? On and on and on there were a lot of questions that just never got answered – and the people who raised those questions were fired by McFarland for being too negative. The planning got started late, and most of the people assigned to do it had no experience doing it at all. As the date moved closer, it became apparent to everyone they couldn’t pull it off. But to McFarland, not pulling it off was not an option. He owed too many people too much money – so he kept pressing ahead.
Fyre is an entertaining documentary. It’s the kind of film that you cannot believe all the details that come out in interview after interview of just how far McFarland went to try and keep this festival going, even as it became clear it wasn’t going to happen. His employees all seem reasonably smart – and yet none of them were smart enough to get the hell out when the getting was good. The attendees are the type of entitled millennials you expect to find – and even if they had a horrible weekend, they will be okay (and while we’re on the subject – what’s up with that guy who said that he and his friends didn’t want to be around anyone in the tent city – so they started pissing on other people mattresses to drive them away – making a horrible thing even worse. That guy’s an asshole).
But it is also more serious than you may expect as well – especially when it focuses on the locals – many of whom did a lot of work, spent and lot of money, and were supposed to be paid for that work, and never did. No one will stick with you more than the restaurant owner – out $50,000 for all the work she did, and the staff she paid, who will never see a dime of that. There were real world consequences to Fyre – even if I never realized what they were at the time. It’s early in 2019, and already we have one of the better documentaries you will likely see this year.

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