‘The Fairy’ delivers slapstick mash-up
“The Fairy” may be as close as we’ll ever get to a live-action cartoon. The cheerfully surreal love child of three Belgium-based comedians, the film is a slapstick ballet that combines elements of Jacques Tati, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Triplets of Belleville,” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” yet it flows with a dreamlike lunacy all its own. The vibe’s too rarefied to last the length of a feature film — and it doesn’t — but when “The Fairy” is on, it creates entirely new comic synapses in your head.
Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy, deadpans all, are responsible for the madness as the film’s writer-director-stars. Abel is a tall drink of foolishness as Dom, a hotel night clerk in Le Havre – the French seacoast city has been reimagined as a candy-colored, underpopulated Legoland – and Gordon is Fiona, a flame-haired ostrich of a woman who appears at his desk one evening and announces she’s a fairy. And perhaps she is: Dom’s first two wishes (a scooter and a lifetime supply of gas) are readily granted. The third wish becomes a matter of suspense, temporarily sidetracked when Dom and Fiona fall in love and have underwater sex in a giant clam.
So it’s not gritty neo-realism; deal with it. “The Fairy” moves to the private rhythms of its performers, who include Romy as a nearly blind waiter (he gets more clangor out of a tin serving tray than you’d imagine possible), Philippe Martz as a British tourist whose lapdog disappears down a sewer, and Vladimir Zongo, Destiné M’Bikula Mayemba, and Willson Goma as three African illegals living in an abandoned car on the beach and dreaming of England. There’s a women’s rugby team, too, named the Diesels and led by a captain (Anais Lamarchand) whose barroom torch song is one of the film’s highlights.
Music and movement are what “The Fairy” is mostly about, and at a few points the film stops dead as Abel and Gordon perform gawky, enchanting pas de deux. (They’re like Tolkien’s Ents imitating Fred and Ginger.) A rescue scene set inside a skyscraper mental institution, with Dom strapping the pregnant Fiona to his chest and hiding her under his topcoat, is slapstick worthy of the masters, so inexplicably silly the movie almost doesn’t recover from the delirium. “The Fairy” doesn’t need to introduce the couple’s adorable baby (Lenny Martz) and place him on the back of a runaway car, but it does so anyway and hopes you’ll enjoy the fake rear-projection as Dom and Fiona play Keatonesque games of catch-up.
By that scene – admittedly inspired – the whimsy is turning tedious, and the deadpans are cramping up. “The Fairy” is a lovely bit of froufrou that hints at the limits of buffoonery, especially when additional plot elements are piled on to justify the running time. Still, you sense that Abel, Gordon, and Romy would be happy to stay here until the end of time, bumping into things and knocking each other over. They’ve built a snowglobe so magical they don’t mind if they occasionally hit the glass.