Through new-age classics like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Catch Me If You Can,” modern cinema contends that a brilliant mind is both amazing and dangerous. We can marvel from afar at the charisma and genius of Jordan Belfort and Frank Abagnale Jr., while keeping in mind the sobering reality that the remarkable visions and charming personas that launched these two men to the top are the very qualities that ultimately put them behind bars. Belfort and Abagnale both rose to the highest of highs, living lives of luxury and grandeur, only to fall to the lowest of lows, serving double-digit sentences in federal prison. Reminiscent of these infamous, big-screen-dramatized frauds, is the story of Fyre Festival: a shockingly catastrophic entrepreneurial venture led by the magnetic, yet arguably mad co-founder Billy McFarland. Exposing the festival’s failure from conception to ashes, Netflix’s rendition of the Fyre Festival catastrophe leaves audiences with mouths agape, horrified and in a state of disbelief that such a beautiful mess actually happened.
At first, Fyre Festival was nothing more than a dream of Billy McFarland’s. Already a successful, youthful and trusted entrepreneur among the New York upper class, McFarland set his sights on advertising his latest undertaking, an entertainment booking app called “Fyre.” What better way to do so than with a massive music festival catered to the millennial elite on a private island in the Bahamas? Wasting no time, McFarland and the rest of his posse, including notorious rapper and Fyre co-founder, Ja Rule, jet off to the Bahamas to shoot a sexy promotional video with a crew of top models. In no time, their brainchild transforms into the most desirable bucket-list item for every millennial influencer. There appears to be trouble in paradise, however, as McFarland’s promises to the festival’s investors and guests begin to pile up, each emptier than the last. Though, money is initially enough to patch up the holes that McFarland’s false claims keep creating, it soon becomes clear that Fyre Festival is a sinking ship, far from the picturesque fantasy of models, music and lavishness it was intended to be.
If one thing is for certain, it is that this documentary could never fall into the unfair yet common stereotype within the genre of being dry or boring. Watching such a visionary and massively expensive project collapse to literal shambles before our eyes, we cannot help but feel captivated by the account of Fyre’s misfortunes. The film rotates between present-day interview clips, showcasing a mixture of Fyre employees, festival goers and journalists exposing the harrowing tale of Fyre festival, and retrospective clips about the festival’s construction process. One of the recurring expressions that interviewees hit on over and over again is the tremendous sensation of guilt. Guilt from believing in and sticking with McFarland despite his growing derangement, guilt for never compensating the hundreds of Bahamian workers responsible for building the festival’s infrastructure and guilt over all the hoops jumped through, lies told, and vows un-kept.
If there is one takeaway from the film it is this: We live in a world ruled by appearance. If something looks perfect, framed within the dimensions of our iPhone screens, we mistakenly decide that it is perfect. The illusion of celebrity, affluence and extravagance that Frye promoted with yachts and models to its influencer millennial audience is ironically the same illusion Fyre’s management team fell victim to. Hypnotized by an unshakable image of Fyre festival as an ethereal paradise, even as its foundation was literally crumbling, McFarland couldn’t awake to recognize the nightmarish reality of what Fyre truly was.
Like all of the juiciest stories, the Fyre Festival calamity is something that must be seen to believe. Netflix’s unveiling of this unimaginable failure will drop your jaw to the floor, set your mind spinning in distress and make you count your blessings for the simple life in good ol’ Ann Arbor, far, far away from the mayhem that transpired.