Movie Review: “Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines schadenfreude as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.”  It is an idea that will be in the viewer’s minds well before the Chris Smith documentary, “Fyre:  The Greatest Party that Never Happened,” discusses anything remotely approaching the concept. The movie is all about the Fyre music festival, which was supposed to be a luxury experience on a private island, and instead couldn’t even fully setup tents for the guests or deliver food as promised or put on a musical program.  Featuring a number of interviews, the viewer watches people explain how they were in over their heads and made one wrong decision after the next, all of which offers no small amount of schadenfreude.

Within the story of the festival itself, “Fyre” touches on this idea in regards to the reaction of those on Twitter as they hear about the festival failing in real-time and relish the idea that this over-priced, over-the-top festival is coming crashing down around the guests.  Unlike the viewer’s schadenfreude, this social media variety is arguably misplaced – that is, no one going to the festival knew the sort of disaster that it was going to be ahead of time, and it is tough to argue that they deserved what they got.  The organizers of the festival, which was created by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, on the other hand… well, they knew things weren’t going well, or at the very least should have known.

McFarland is made into the easy target of the documentary, which talks to not just festival-goers, but a number of the individuals who worked for the festival and/or Fyre Media, the company behind it.  The majority of the documentary is in fact these very interviews with the staff, all of whom seem to place the bulk of the blame on McFarland.  Yes, they are willing (sometimes) to take some of it themselves, but they tend to focus on McFarland’s being a hustler and totally unwilling to listen to anyone who comes to him with a problem.

It is an insanely engrossing movie.

The Fyre festival was an unabashed disaster, and watching so many of the people who worked on it trace the events which led to the weekend itself is fascinating.  As presented, there wasn’t just one bad choice made by McFarland and his team, they would make a bad choice and then follow it up with several more, and did so in a multitude of areas.

The stories of the festival make it clear the whole thing was a train wreck.  There are cringe-worthy, awful, tales told.  Some moments are utterly shocking and others will cause one to shake their head in disbelief; and they all make it clear that McFarland and company knew before they flew a single paying customer out to the festival that they should have cancelled the whole thing.

As mesmerizing as the stories are, there is one thing which Smith’s movie is very clearly missing, and that’s McFarland himself.  He is the villain of the piece, it is a story built around the notion that the festival was his personal failure.  Not having McFarland speak directly to camera, not having him have the opportunity to give his version of events is a shortcoming.

There is a whole lot of footage recorded before, during, and after the festival in which McFarland speaks about what is happening/has happened, but these recordings lack the sort of blunt realism of an individual speaking directly to camera during an interview.  It is always McFarland the showman, McFarland the conman, never just McFarland himself working it through for the audience.  The other interviewees, even if they’re not taking a lot of the blame, seem, by and large, to have spent some introspective moments considering the festival and their part in it.  One desperately wants that of McFarland himself, and it simply is not there to be found.

It cannot be said that this missing element destroys the viewer’s schadenfreude upon witnessing McFarland’s (possible) downfall after the Fyre festival, but it does make it feel rather incomplete.  And while schadenfreude isn’t the point, the missing interview makes “Fyre” feel incomplete as well.

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photo credit:  Netflix

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