“Fairyland” is an intimate, moving story of love, loss, and the relationship between a father and his daughter. Based on Alysia Abbot’s 2013 memoir, writer / director Andrew Durham captures a raw, emotionally honest, bittersweet tale of a nontraditional family that feels universal. This family drama carries a great deal of emotional weight, but is also entertaining and enjoyable.
Told over several decades, the film starts in the 1970s with the tragic death of Alysia’s (Emilia Jones) mother, prompting her dad Steve (Scoot McNairy) to uproot the young girl and head for a fresh start in San Francisco. The pair move into a crowded group house in Haight Ashbury that’s shared with an eclectic group of artists, musicians, nomads, and druggies, much to the chagrin of Steve’s conservative mother-in-law (Geena Davis). It’s here that Alysia gets a real education in life, especially when her dad begins sharing his bed with random men.
The coming-of-age story continues by exploring Steve and Alysia’s shifting rapport over the years as she matures and moves on, struggling with a childhood that allowed her too much independence. This results in a strained adult relationship that’s sad but understandable, and Durham beautifully captures the feeling of obligation and disappointment when Alysia is forced to put her life on hold to take care of her ailing dad.
There’s a lot of life covered here, and the best parts of the film are when Alysia is a child in San Francisco. Durham nails the nostalgic, vintage aesthetic of the 70s and 80s, capturing the carefree vibe of the era. As Alysia grows up and leaves to study abroad in Paris, the film loses steam a bit, but the intimate scenes between father and daughter feel mostly authentic, bittersweet, and genuinely touching.
With the film partially set at time when AIDS was rampant in the gay community, you know where the story is headed (and it takes a long time to get there). The script is overwritten and sometimes feels bland, hollow, and predictable, but the scenes of emotional reconciliation are mostly done well (even with a touch of melodrama). “Fairyland” is not perfect, but neither is life.
By: Louisa Moore