Fyre Review: Netflix Documentary Takes on Influencer Culture…and Hulu

Netflix's Fyre Festival documentary is a compelling piece of work but how does it handle being "scooped" by Hulu?

Fyre Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Oh no, would you look at that: the streaming services are fighting!

Netflix and Hulu are engaged in a full out, total war with each other. Hulu has conjured up a Stephen King-ian horror from Castle Rock to do battle against the Demogorgon. The cast of Runaways is duking it out with the cast of The Defenders. Billy Eichner is drinking Alan Arkin’s blood!

The source of this war? Two documentaries about the ill-fated influencer culture fly trap Fyre Festival. Netflix announced awhile ago that it would debuting Fyre, a documentary about Fyre Festival directed by Chris Smith (Jim & Andy), on Friday, Jan. 18. Then, out of absolutely-fucking-nowhere, Hulu premiered its own documentary about Fyre Festival, titled Fyre Fraud, on Monday, Jan. 14.

Lest anyone think this is some sort of Deep Impact/Armageddon happy coincidence, Hulu went on the offensive, pointing out (not wrongly) that Netflix’s Fyre was produced by Jerry Media, the same company that served as the marketing arm for Fyre Festival. That’s what we call in the biz a conflict of interest. Undeterred Netflix fired… excuse me, fyred back with an accusation of their own. They claimed that the Hulu documentary only received an exclusive interview with Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland because they paid him an undisclosed lump sum of cash (rumored to be around $100,000 to 250,000). This is what we call in the biz a scummy move. 

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Regardless of all the streaming service on streaming service violence (receiving word now that Offred has eviscerated Kimmy Schmidt), this presents a nice little opportunity for viewers and critics alike. Viewers now have two Fyre Festival documentaries to watch, and quite frankly I’m not sure even two documentaries will satiate the public’s appetite for this insane story. As for critics, we get to do that one thing we always are tempted to do but can rarely so overtly do: compare stuff directly.

read more: The Best Documentaries on Netflix

Really all film, television, literary, and every other criticism is merely a more artful way of comparing one thing to other things. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Even the most original piece of art can only be considered original when compared to all the stuff that came before it. And even then someone will find a close analogue for it in like a 1690s German medical manuscript or something. But here we have two documentaries covering the exact same topic debuting within a week of each other. It’s journalistic malpractice to review one without at least watching the other. So I did… and something weird happened. I fucked up.

A peak behind the curtain: I’ve been slated to review Netflix’s Fyre documentary for weeks. The review embargo lifts on Monday and I decided to finally give the thing a watch. Right before I do, Hulu debuts their Fyre documentary by surprise. In all the excitement and confusion, I decide to watch Hulu’s documentary first and then the Netflix one. Here is where the screw up comes in. I watched both documentaries under the mistaken impression that the Hulu doc was produced by Jerry Media and the Netflix one was not. In reality, it is the opposite. I didn’t know that though, so I watched the Hulu documentary closely watching for any signs of conflicts of interest. To my surprise, I didn’t find many clear ones, aside from perhaps letting Billy McFarland run his mouth unchecked a couple too many times. Then I watched the Netflix one with a similarly close eye and again found no “problematic” material. 

Perhaps I learned something about what we really look for out of documentaries throughout this process. A documentary is supposed to be a journalistic endeavor as much as a creative one. Things like conflicts of interest and skewed perspectives should matter, and they do… but not if they don’t actually make it to the screen. In watching both of these documentaries, I found that the ability to tell a clear, concise, and entertaining story mattered more to me as a viewer. 

So both documentaries are seemingly “clean” from an ethical standpoint and both tell the same fascinating story. Which one tells it better? 

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There’s really no way to compa…the Netflix one. This one. This one tells it way better. 

It’s been so painful the last two days seeing praise heaped upon Hulu’s (still quite good) Fyre Festival documentary when the people don’t know that the definitive one is coming at week’s end. Well, people of the internet, I’m here to tell you that this one is it, chief. 

Netflix’s Fyre (sometimes subtitled “The Greatest Party That Never Happened”) is the superior Fyre Festival doc, and one of the most purely enjoyable documentaries in some time, because it is almost pathologically obsessed with story. This is simply the non-fiction story of the Fyre Festival. Front to back with no other frills. The access that Smith has received is expansive and the diversity of interviews from behind the scenes players gathered is impressive. 

read more: The Best Documentaries on Hulu

The Fyre Festival is simply one of the greatest stories of fraud, hucksterdom, and hubris of the millennium. You likely know the basics by now, but it is never not worth reliving them. Billy McFarland was a millennial entrepreneur who decided to throw the word’s greatest music festival on a private island in the Bahamas and invite all of social media’s most prominent influencers. Things were looking great until they decided they could pull this off in four months…. and they could pack 1,000 people on a tiny island… and then lost said island because Pablo Escobar’s family got pissed… and then ran out of money. It all ends with some of the world’s most privileged and powerful young people arriving at an abandoned Sandals resort with nothing but cheese sandwiches, FEMA tents, and no planes home. 

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The decision that Fyre makes that makes it a truly great documentary is that it recognizes the timeless spirit of bullshit inherit in what the Fyre Festival is and then clinically uncovers it, piece by piece. One of the more aggravating aspects of Hulu’s Fyre Fraud is how much time it spends discussing the Fyre Festival as a millennial endeavor. Yes, millennials can be annoying, I’m sure. And there are plenty of uniquely millennial obsessions involved in the story of Fyre Festival like Instagram and…. actually that’s about it. Fyre Fraud treats the festival as an indictment of millennial culture as though it was your nephew Josh who drives Uber, has $50,000 in student loan debt, and no health insurance all while dropping $250,000 on Fyre Festival.

Netflix’s Fyre goes deeper than the base level modern interpretation. It finds the story of grifters, people with money, and all the bullshit that transpires between them that’s as old as time itself. Looking at Fyre Festival as the ultimate millennial disaster almost cheapens the biblical nature of the deception and hucksterism at play here. 

The story of Fyre Festival requires no adornments or styling, so Fyre doesn’t bother with them. There is no weird editing here, no lingering shots on speakers’ silent faces after they’ve said something profound, no B-roll of absolutely anything outside the immediate Fyre Festival orbit. 

You can always tell when a documentary’s got the goods and it knows it. Both Netflix’s Fyre and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud have the goods because the Fyre Festival disaster itself was utterly insane. Only Fyre, however, had the confidence to let the story truly stand for itself.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5