Starring: Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Andy King
Director: Chris Smith
Running Time: 97 mins
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is an American documentary about the story of the Fyre Festival, a luxury music festival on a remote Bahamian island that completely unravelled after a frenzied lack of organisation and foresight.
Given that it all happened only 18 months ago, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of Fyre Festival and its many implications, but it seems to be a pretty infamous story, and this documentary does a great job at telling it. With an electric, almost breathless pace that’s typical of Netflix docs, the film is an exciting and engrossing watch throughout, taking you on a rollercoaster of a ride through the farce that was the Fyre Festival of 2017.
With a true story that’s full of shocks and twists that you won’t believe, Fyre grabs you right from the start as it rushes you through the weeks and months of chaos surrounding the luxury festival that never was, with a pretty strong and solid three-act structure following the initial successful marketing campaign, the chaotic planning for the even that came far too late in the day, and then the serious legal implications that came with an event that was clearly guilty of fraud charges on an immense scale.
In that, the film has all the trappings of an exciting thriller, but the real beauty of its structure actually comes in the first few seconds, with a quick montage that shows just how dramatically the whole event derailed in the end, before leading you into the sun-soaked paradise of the first promotional shoot in the Bahamas, setting up brilliant anticipation as you watch things get bigger and more lavish, waiting for the penny to drop and things to start really falling apart.
So, the first act plays well on that anticipation, as well as taking a look at the rather vulgar and excessive lifestyles of many of the people involved in the project from the start, setting you up well for the moment where things take a turn for the worse, at which point you’ve seen all the ambition and extensive promotion for a festival that hadn’t even been planned out yet, and now the repercussions as everything spirals rapidly out of control.
The documentary’s narrative places the blame squarely at the feet of organiser Billy McFarland, a sublime young entrepreneur and salesman who took the idea of a music festival to the bounds of feasibility. Now, McFarland’s actions, responsibilities and crimes are clear as day from what’s shown in the film, and it makes for a thought-provoking and eye-opening watch that shows just how bad things can go when power, money and excess get to people’s heads – very often reminiscent of the story of The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Having said that, there are moments when the doc does go a little too much on the attack at him personally, leaving somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth rather than a more objective look at McFarland’s role in lying to thousands of keen concertgoers, which is in truth one of the more frustrating and certainly less entertaining elements of the film.
However, the increasingly chaotic nature of the festival’s woeful organisation ultimately being crammed into the space of less than two months is what really makes the film such a rollercoaster, with the ever-growing realisation that there will be thousands of people rocking up very soon expecting a music festival that has no chance of being pulled off.
Towards the final act, the movie calms down as it looks into the widespread repercussions of the fraud of the whole event, as journalists, lawyers and more come into the fray, and things become a very serious indictment of not just McFarland and the Fyre organisers, but a wider criticism of ‘influencer’ culture, in which celebrities are able to entice members of the public into almost anything through their social media presence, without having the first idea of what they themselves are promoting.
That’s a fascinating line of inquiry that the film follows, and I actually wish there was a little more analysis on that front, rather than more direct attacks on McFarland towards the end that just feel a little over-the-top, considering you’ve just spent an hour and a half watching his incompetence and deluded mindset leave thousands of people in total chaos.
With all that said, though, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is a thrilling documentary that follows a fascinating and exciting story with great depth and insight throughout, furthered by a strong structure and moments of thought-provoking and eye-opening discussion. It’s not entirely perfect, and is perhaps a little too aggressive in its debate at times, but it still proves an enthralling rollercoaster of a watch, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0 overall.