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Fairyland – Sundance 2023 (Film Review)

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Still Courtesy - Sundance Institute

Fairyland is the debut feature from director ; a long-term collaborator with Sofia Coppola. Coppola, who is also one of the producers on the film, optioned Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott, soon after its publication. No doubt she saw some similarities, as her own upbringing is contrasted with the same-time frame and parental-relationship in San Francisco. Initially, she was announced as a co-writer on the film back in 2013, but Durham ended up writing the film himself.

Fairyland was shot on Super 16mm, to give the project a more period feel. The early scenes in the '70s get the most out of its aesthetic choice. This is where the film works best, in contrast with Fairyland‘s '80s period. During its later-era scenes, Durham mostly explores the exterior world on display; instead of Alysia's interior life at home. There is also more archival material to draw on within its late '70s scenes, to add context to the political draw. Harvey Milk's run for the Board of Supervisors, the Jonestown massacre, 1978's California Proposition 6, and of course Milk's subsequent assassination are all mentioned in some form in the film. There is also a part in Fairyland where Alysia travels to Paris for college, which later plays up all the Parisian cliches to the max. In fairness, the film's most effective moments are found within its simpler and quieter scenes; such as Alysia playing dress-up with one of her father's flatmates.

, who was the breakout star of the Oscar-winning film CODA, plays the older version of Alysia. She is an acceptable performer, as she portrays the role of a young adult gaining agency, during a period of her life where she questions her father's life-choices at the brink of his mortality. On the flip-side, has become one of our great actors, ever since his turn in Killing Them Softly. His ability to communicate with vulnerable facial expressions sells his role. Fairyland is a flawed film, and probably plays its material a little too safe at times. The film still sustains itself with a very enjoyable story, centred around an unconventional upbringing. In particular, Scoot McNairy elevates the at-times pedestrian filmmaking. Fairyland is clearly a passion over commerciality project for everybody involved; a feat that should be celebrated in our franchise-heavy environment.  

Still Courtesy – Institute
Fairyland premiered at this year's , as part of the Premieres program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.