Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is a delightful piece of schadenfreude
If you were an active social media user back in April 2017, you probably got wind of the enormous, epic failure of the Fyre Festival. In fact, it was more of a hurricane than a strong gust. All you had to do was log on, and you were treated to a neverending parade of photos, memes, and tweets featuring soaking mattresses, styrofoam boxes of undressed salad, and a sea of millennials in designer clothes packed like sardines into a gravel parking lot. Chris Smith's Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, is a hair pulling, can't-believe-your-ears, edge of your seat piece of journalism that walks you through the months leading up to that fateful spring weekend in the Bahamas- and tracks the serious consequences of the fallout, when the memes disappeared, replaced by lawsuits and prison time.
If you have ever planned so much as a birthday party before, the first 30 minutes of Fyre will make your hair stand on end. We meet a cast of characters, some interviewed and some captured in available behind the scenes footage. The main subject of the story, and any story of the festival, is Billy McFarland, a young entrepreneur and former CEO of Fyre Media, the "Uber of booking". Imagine Jordan Belfort of The Wolf Of Wall Street fame, but replace the stock market, cocaine and prostitutes with viral social media campaigns, and you have an idea. Billy is portrayed as an ambitious young Millennial who was second to none in getting the wealthy to part ways with their money in order to fund his dreams, which fused the tech advancements of Silicon Valley with the glamour of New York City night life. Almost never portrayed onscreen without his phone in hand, typing something, Billy seems like he is always working on some kind of a scheme. You have to wonder what he was doing all that time, since the day of the concert arrived without anything resembling proper lodging, food, or the artists that were supposedly booked to play. It's as if Billy and Fyre thought that a viral social media promotion campaign, featuring a crew of some of the world's most famous models (who were not present at the festival), was the real work of booking a music festival- and not, say, making sure that there were enough toilets for everybody. The film's interview subjects, Billy's former employees and assistants, walk us through the dozens of red flags that began to pop up, but their desire to significantly scale back the scope of the project, or eventually cancel it altogether, continued to fall on deaf ears until it was too late. It is up to the viewer to decide how much these people deserve to share in the blame with their bosses. Smith deftly withholds judgment, rather choosing to illustrate a steep road to hell paved with good intentions, one where things were spinning wildly out of control, too fast for people to get their bearings straight.
The film is filled with incredible tidbits of information, some shocking and some delightfully absurd. From a successfully-avoided-at-the-last-minute blowjob, to Ja Rule being a part of all of this for some reason despite not having had a hit since I was in middle school, there is plenty to gawk at throughout. But it wouldn't add up to much if Fyre wasn't also a sort of State Of The Union on social media and Millennial culture. "Fyre was like Instagram come to life," says on character towards the end, recalling that the best part of the entire experience was the time spent partying while filming the original promo material, with the likes of Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. Everybody who came to Fyre wanted to recreate a moment they saw play out on their phones- driven perhaps by the type of FOMO that only Instagram can inspire you to have. But that moment was gone- all that was left was an empty stage in an empty parking lot next to a Sandals resort on a different island altogether. When the dust settles, the FBI is knocking on the door of Billy's employees- and the true scope of his wrongdoings is revealed.
To make matters even more interesting, a competing documentary, Fyre Fraud, was just released on Hulu, which I haven't seen. Social media is once again obsessed with the Fyre Festival, this time with people arguing over which documentary gives the more authentic version of the events. It is just too rich that Billy McFarland's impossible dream of a festival where they could "act like rock stars and fuck like porn stars" is still stuck in our heads, all of us laughing at the losers who got conned while perhaps still wishing we could find a way to have that much fun too.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is currently available on Netflix.