Fairyland Review (Sundance).
Sundance entry Fairyland is a strong, if abbreviated, adaptation of Alysia Abbott’s best-selling memoir.
Plot: After the tragic death of his wife, Steve (Scoot McNairy) uproots his young daughter, Alysia, and moves to San Francisco, where he begins to explore his tragic homosexuality amid the gay rights movement. increasing in the 70s. Years later, in the 80s, while the AIDS crisis is ravaging the community, the now grown Alysia (Emilia Jones) returns home to care for her dying father.
Review: A fairy one of the most promising films to play at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Although it is a good adaptation of the memoir by Alysia Abbott, it was the film that made me realize how the indie scene has changed. A decade or so ago, a star-driven historical drama based on a best-selling book would have had a healthy budget and maybe the support of a minor like Searchlight or Focus. In the new, micro-budget era, first-time director Andrew Durham had to plan a decade-long family epic on what must have been a small budget. Durham has to rely on a lot of stock footage to recreate 1970s/80s San Francisco. The result is that A fairy there’s more of a grumpy dog quality than you’d expect, given the surname (coming from producer Sofia Coppoia and American Zoetrope).
As it is, Durham and his producers should get plenty of credit for still being able to craft an entertaining father-daughter story, even if, at under two hours, it feels too short. It might have been better as a limited series, with some of the more interesting characters disappearing without much explanation, making the whole thing feel abbreviated.
Fortunately, Durham has an ace up its sleeve in the legendary Scoot McNairy. Often underdone, this is a rare major role for the former character actor, and he’s so good that one hopes Hollywood sits up and takes notice. He has no easy part here. Like Steve, he’s smart but also self-absorbed to the point that his daughter, Alysia, is pretty much left to fend for herself from an early age while he studies San Francisco in the 1970s. An aspiring author, he mines family tragedy for his material without considering what it might do to his daughter. However, McNairy makes him not only enjoyable but likable. As soon as the worst happens and he becomes an AIDS patient, your heart breaks for him, and McNairy embodies the character with a lot of soul.
In contrast, Jones, despite delivering great performances this year Cat Man (read my Sundance review) and CODA, he cannot take her role as McNairy does. The culprit seems to be her limited screen time, being only in about half of the movie (Nessa Dougherty plays her in the first half of the movie). If anything, there is too much focus on Alysia, with her semester abroad in France and her relationship with a dreamy Frenchman taking up a chunk of the running time. At the same time, interesting characters like Cody Fern and Adam Lambert as Steve’s various love interests, disappear without any explanation. Geena Davis’ role as Alysia’s disapproving (but ultimately supportive) grandmother also feels abbreviated. Land of the Fairies also suffers from a few slightly off-the-nose scenes, such as Alysia’s reunion with Maria Baklava’s Paulette, who begins the film as a drug dealer but eventually becomes a – AIDS claim.
While A fairy it is not as compelling a study of San Francisco gay culture in the seventies as Gus Van Sant Milk or as an interesting picture of the AIDS crisis as The normal heart, Land of the Fairies it is still effective and attractive. McNairy’s powerhouse performance makes it a must, even if the film could have benefited from more time to tell its story and a heavier, less risky budget.