Rating: 2.5/5Undeniably influenced by Jacques Tati as well as slapstick and early surrealist cinema, The Fairy is the third outing for Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel as the quirky couple Fiona and Dom. Prone to accidents and comedic mayhem, the pair previously appeared in two films. Their tale in The Fairy is a prequel of sorts, the adventure of how the two first met and fell in love.
Gordon and Abel, along with partner Bruno Romy, wrote, directed and starred in all three films. The first of the series, L’iceberg (2005), showed the trio’s clear appreciation of their slapstick-and-pantomime silent ancestors, as well as a tangible joy in the craft of filmmaking. By this third film in the series, however, their effort seems lackluster, more labored than a labor of love. Several sight gags from the first two films are repeated in The Fairy, which may perhaps charm fans expecting more of the same, but for many they will feel repetitive and unoriginal.
Beleaguered hotel clerk Dom just wants to eat his bologna and ketchup sandwich, but he is continuously interrupted by guests wanting to check in. The final customer of the night is Fiona, a disheveled and shoeless woman who introduces herself as a fairy offering Dom three wishes. He barely notices or cares; there’s a musical western he’s eager to get back to, plus that delicious sandwich. Later that night, however, the klutzy Dom chokes on the lid to the ketchup bottle. Fiona somehow senses Dom is in danger and rushes to save him. Now convinced she truly is a fairy, he makes two wishes, which Fiona grants through finagling and liberal theft; this is also how she procures a lovely outfit for their first date. Soon Fiona is recaptured and sent back to the mental hospital from which she escaped, pregnant and in need of a rescuing knight. Dom and Fiona struggle for freedom via a series of stunts and misadventures, collecting allies and pursuers along the way.
There is no doubting Abel’s or Gordon’s physical versatility, which is alternately astonishing and delightful. The biggest joys in The Fairy come from seeing the contortions and impossible angles of their limbs, the mastery and control the pair have over their own bodies. While the burlesque occasionally borders on the sublime, the humor is often tired and weak, making the film something of a plod. One of the most prominent running gags is a man with poor eyesight who sometimes runs into things. That’s it. There are also stupid cops, foreigners who speak poor French, and unreliable cars that break down. You expect more, but there is nothing more to these jokes.
These put-ons are as old as cinema itself and not inherently charming, nor does the repetition of clichéd humor invoke silliness in the way repeating a deliberately bad joke might. The paper-thin jokes collapse at the slightest distraction, of which there are many thanks to both the stunts and the stylistic choice to use antiquated techniques such as rear-screen projection and blocked shots for special effects. This often enhances the fantastic elements of the film, but frequently the low-budget effects are simply used to generate laughs. Unfortunately, not every outdated special effect is funny simply because it’s old. Further, some of The Fairy’s cheesier moments were obviously unintentional. There are continuity errors, and occasionally an actor spends much of a scene trying to stifle laughs rather than generate them. A lengthy scene where the couple’s baby refuses to let go of his father’s finger is at first cute, but quickly turns uncomfortable as you can see the child visibly struggling against whatever mechanism the filmmakers used to attach his hand to the actor’s.
Discomfort is nothing new to the filmmakers, who with their previous works showed they had no issue with embracing darker material. Yet it’s a bit prickly to hear a puppy howling in pain after being tossed angrily into a sewer, or to see a heavily-pregnant woman eating a variety of medications like candy until she passes out and can barely be revived.
That is not to say this film is wholly unsuccessful. More so than the first two films of the series, The Fairy is a cohesive story with sight gags and fantasy sequences that are an inherent part of the plot, rather than a series of barely-related sketches. When Fiona is recommitted to the asylum, she only realizes she is pregnant when her stomach swells like a balloon. As the film continues, we see posters have browned, plants have grown, and broken-down cars have become almost completely restored since Fiona’s capture. It’s a lovely, dreamlike way of showing the passage of nine months in just a few moments, with details so subtle they are nearly subconscious. There is also a charming fantasy underwater dance sequence, and Anaïs Lemarchand delivers a knockout rendition of “Youkali” in a pub where her rugby team is drowning their collective sorrows.
The untethered joy of these few standout moments fail to provide energy for the rest of the film, rendering it slow, and sometimes unbearably twee. Fans of the eccentric Fiona and Dom will certainly find plenty to love in this film, but newcomers to their romantic slapstick will likely be left cold.