Netflix's Fyre festival documentary is a smart, devastating portrait of a scam
The Titanic; the Hindenburg; Fyre Festival. It might be hyperbole to call one of these things a bona fide disaster; Fyre crashed and burned with no fatalities, after all — technically only time, money, and the chance to spend a long weekend glamping in the Bahamas with Major Lazer and Blink-182 were lost to the ash heap of history.
But in his insightful and damning new documentary Fyre, filmmaker Chris Smith (Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, American Movie) takes the subject of a thousand late-night punchlines and gleefully schadenfreude-y social media posts and examines it seriously, almost forensically. The trouble began in 2016 when a faded hip-hop star (Ja Rule) and a young serial entrepreneur (Billy McFarland) decided to join forces on a wildly ambitious undertaking they clearly had neither the skills nor the scruples to ever realistically pull off: a one-off music festival on a lush private island that promised Instagrammable luxury, top-tier artists, and direct access to some of the world’s most beautiful supermodels and social influencers. (At press time, Hulu abruptly released the competing Fyre Fraud, a breezier and more discursive portrait whose blame game ultimately lands on a sort of generalized millennial ennui.)
Working with more than a dozen integral players, from caterers and day laborers to audio engineers, Smith traces exactly what went wrong. What he finds is less a farce than a sort of American tragedy, and a Bahamian one too: hundreds if not thousands of people who were financially and even spiritually destroyed by McFarland’s misdeeds. There’s some undeniable silliness in watching grown adults lose their minds when visions of sprawling villas and sashimi chefs yield to FEMA tents and wet cheese sandwiches. But the movie is more than a bonfire of the inanities; it’s a shrewd indictment of a dream gone spectacularly, criminally wrong. B+
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