Although it’s over 30 years since the AIDS pandemic decimated the queer community it’s still a very raw memory for so many of us. In the new millennium, we were inundated with fictional movies on the subject, and the majority of them were appalling. Sensationalized, morbid, alarmist, and even excuses to promote rampant homophobia.
For us older members of the community, our memories are still steeped in that era when our lives changed forever. We still feel a need to revisit if for no better reason than to remember all of the loved ones we lost. And for younger LGBTQ+ peeps it is vitally important that they know the facts of this pernicious disease that was a vital part of our history and reshaped our community in such a major way.
Once in a while, we get to review a move that gets it pitch-perfect. Andrew Durham’s excellent FAIRYLAND is such one case. True it did reduce us to tears in part, but part of its authenticity was to show how we did come through in the end. Well, some of us.
Durham, the writer-director and co-producer (alongside co-producer Sofia Coppola) based the film on Alysia Abbott’s “Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. So we see much of the story unfold which will tell how both her and her father’s journeys as they struggle to find their own identities and be true to themselves
It all starts when Steve Abbott (a truly wonderful Scoot McNairy) a writer who after the death of his wife in a road accident, fills his old Volkswagen bug and his 5-year-old daughter Alysia (Nessa Dougherty) and heads from the Mid West to San Francisco. It’s the 1970’s a time of free love and an exciting time when the burgeoning gay community was moving from being tolerated to being accepted.
Steve fell back into what we discover was his old routine before his marriage, and his bedroom appeared to have a revolving door of potential boyfriends (one played by Adam Lambert) Something he didn’t hide from a curious Alyssa who asked why he didn’t have any girlfriends. To which he replied that he could ‘never find one as good as her mother’ ( who had evidently been aware of his sexual proclivities).
When they first arrive the pair of them share an apartment with a drag queen and a drug pusher, and it seems like there are parties every night. The beauty is that Durham shows most of this through Alyssa’s inquiring eyes who in her innocent youth accepts it all. The only one who doesn’t is her maternal grandmother (Geena Davies) who in her regular phone calls tries (but fails miserably) to influence Alyssa.
It’s when Steve enrolls her in the French Lycee and she is taunted by her classmates, does she start to realize that her unconventional life with her gay father is far from the norm. It means while Steve can pursue both men and his writing career, he leaves Alyssa (now played by the very talented Emilia Jones ) alone most of the time to enjoy an independent childhood. That doesn’t sit at all well with her at the time, but as she matures she comes to terms with the benefits of having such an unconventional life and father. Watching this you can see how scary that was …..getting lost on the bus journey …. and also how enlightening like when a drag queen taught her how to use makeup
Soon all lightness started to appear as the city was hit by the tornado of AIDS when everyone was in the dark about what was killing off previously healthy gay men. Then eventually as Steve is diagnosed with the disease, Durham so perceptively takes Fairyland to a whole different plane. His handling of what is now a heartbreaking scenario is exemplary and we don’t begrudge him the fact we are running out of Kleenex.
It is therefore no major surprise when we later read that like Alyssa, Durham had to leave College and go home to nurse his dying father. But how he found the strength to revisit that to film this scene I will never know. But then it is the sheer authenticity that makes Fairyland a total must-see for our entire community and a beautiful reminder of how we really need to live life to the full ….for ourselves and for those who were robbed of the opportunity.
P.S. Fairyland is the Opening Night Gala Film at Miami’s OUTshine Film Festival
Review : Roger Walker-Dack
Editor in Chief : Queerguru Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor The Gay Uk &Contributor Edge Media Former CEO and Menswear Designer of Roger Dack Ltd in the UK one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad
Labels: 2012, AIDS drama, Alysia Abbott’, Andrew Durham, Fairyland, Geena Davis, Scoot McNairy, Sofia Coppola, true story