(director/writer: Andrew Durham; screenwriter: based on Alysia Abbott’s book Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father; cinematographer: Greta Zolula; editors: Peter Cabadahagan, Lawrence Klein; music: Michael Penn; cast: Emilia Jones (Alysia), Scoot McNairy (Steve), Geena Davis (Munca), Cody Fern (Eddie), Adam Lambert (Charlie), Maria Bakalova (Paulette), Nessa Dougherty (Younger Alysia), Ryan Thurston (Johnny), Bella Murphy (Yayne), Isabella Peregrina (Skid), Ben Attal (Theo), Cabe Thompson (JD), Roman Gonzalez (Sam); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sofia Coppola, Megan Carlson, Siena Oberman, Greg Lauritano, Laure Sudreau; American Zoetrope; 2023)

“Moving story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Andrew Durham is a photographer making his feature film directing and writing debut by adapting to the screen Alysia Abbot’s 2013 memoir: Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. It covers a few decades in her life, as Alysia (Emilia Jones as a teen) chronicles being raised by her gay single father Steve (Scoot McNairy) and of caring for him when he had AIDS. Her moving story is sensitively and maturely told by Durham, until it hits a wall and loses some steam but without losing how personal and intimate is its story.

Things begin in 1974. The midwestern writer Steve is notified that his wife has been killed in a car crash, whereby he’s left to care for his young daughter Alysia (
Nessa Dougherty, as a youngster).

Against the desire of his conservative haughty mother-in-law (Geena Davis) he drives his VW Beetle to the center of the bohemian counter-culture movement in San Francisco to get a fresh start.

Dad scores a seedy share-place in
Haight Ashbury. There are gay tenants and its run by the zany drug dealer Paulette (Maria Bakalova). It takes the spunky kid some time to adjust to the strange place, but does so after befriending her other roommates: the queer Johnny (Ryan Thurston) and his lover the guitar playing hippie Eddie (Cody Fern).

When Eddie’s gone, many other gay men come and go. Meantime Steve openly comes out as a gay man.

By the mid-’80s, Alysia (played by Emilia Jones) is a soph in high school and the gay mood sours in the changing city, as she fails to tell her friends about her gay dad. Steve is into the city’s active poetry scene, and is sexually active as he contacts AIDS (and is cared for by his daughter).

We’re now in the Reagan era, and there’s a shift growing in the liberal city in its tolerance for the queer and hippie communities.

Alysia goes to NYU as an exchange student living in Paris, and when she returns home for a visit, her dad confronts her–as their now strained relationship lacks the trust it lost because
Alysia is disappointed in Dad’s life choices. In a tear jerker scene, father and daughter emotionally reconcile.

It played at the Sundance Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 4/19/2023  GRADE: B-