Review: Fyre (2019)


One of the refrains of recent years has been the toxic nature of social media. Facebook and Twitter have borne the major brunt of attention, but beyond the election tampering, privacy violations, and mob mentality, Instagram may be the most pernicious social media platform of all. It’s both the most popular platform in terms of active users and the most superficial, comprised of nothing but photographs and short video clips. And most importantly, it’s the most marketing-driven, selling products or life experiences in ways that make it difficult to distinguish one from the other. If social media is all about social engineering, Instagram is the most potent method of capitalistic brainwashing. It has also led to some unquestionably bad things in the world, not least of which is the infamous Fyre Festival, which Chris Smith’s Fyre explores in satisfying fashion.

Fyre is a decent primer on the dangers of Instagram and the “insta-life,” although it goes about attacking the dangers of social media by focusing on the start-up Fyre. Pitched as the “Uber for talent” and the passion project of pathological liar and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, Fyre is most famous for the Fyre Festival, a proposed “luxury music festival” that stranded thousands of Instagram power users on a Bahamian beach without plumbing or proper accommodations. It essentially kick-started a Lord of the Flies scenario with people who happen to document their every waking second.

The kicker of this latter point is that Fyre has plenty of juicy footage to play with once it gets to the actual depiction of the “festival,” as the people who attended posted hours of it to their Instagram feed and are more than happy to recount their despicable actions. The schadenfreude generated by this section alone is worth a viewing. But the actual travesty of the Fyre Festival is not that the festival never happened as advertised: it’s that a lot of Instagram users thought the festival as advertised looked like something they wanted.

Early in the film, while recounting the initial press for the festival, Smith focuses on the image of an orange square that was posted to Instagram by the world’s top models and influencers in order to pique interest in the festival. Despite offering no details, no visual pleasure, and no substance of any kind, the orange square worked and spread like wildfire across Instagram. Smith circles back to this image later in the film, showing that this whole debacle was made possible because people cared about an orange square. All the fraud and theft and broken promises and abused workforces were made possible because people cared that some beautiful women and shallow celebrities posted an orange square for money, which is absolutely absurd.

Although Fyre circles back to this point, it never explores the implications of this further, and that’s why I have my reservations about the film. Well, that and the fact that Smith allows Jerry Media, the public relations firm that’s largely responsible for McFarland’s long con, to wash their hands of their culpability in the disaster in exchange for their cooperation and wealth of footage. It’s all more evidence that Fyre is merely a superficial take on a wider issue. It offers plenty of information, good footage, and the occasionally perceptive comment, but it doesn’t want to tackle the issue of why people should care about what random beautiful women they don’t know think on a photography app and how a culture that glorifies the Fyre Festival as it was advertised enables criminal manipulators like Billy McFarland.

Fyre is entertaining when showing how this particular PR blunder went terribly wrong, but I wish it had offered more insightful commentary on our social impulses as a whole in addition to compelling documentation of a specific event.

6 out of 10

Fyre (2019, United States)

Directed by Chris Smith.