A musical dream come true

“Fairies” was successful short on its own before writer/director Tom Gustafson decided to expand the story into the 2008 feature film, “Were the World Mine.” I have a confession to make: I LOVE “WTWM” and didn’t even realise that this short exists first. Unfortunately, that means that my review of “Fairies” is through this retrospective viewpoint and thus already a tad biased. But what I was pleasantly surprised about “Fairies” is that all of the core aspects I love about “WTWM” come from this initial short film. In the words of Ms Tebitt, “Fairies” is simply “Luscious!”

The Musical Fantasy – Synopsis of “Fairies”

The boys are starting gym class, coach blows his whistle, and the game of dodgeball begins – everyone against Timothy. You see, Timothy (James McKay) is the outcast at his all-male boarding school, picked on and taunted by the other kids and even the coach, all because Timothy is gay. Cradling the black eye from a direct hit to his head by a dodgeball (ouch!), he’s late to his next class and again taunted and even tripped. Ms Tebitt, (Wendy Robie) the quirky English/Drama teacher quickly stops that with, “Gentlemen. You will not disrespect a soul in here.” Today’s lesson: Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and writing in verse. Except before long Timothy is daydreaming about his crush, Jonathan (Chris Cordon), who happens to sit right in front of him. Sadly, Timothy is drawn back into class where they continue reading the play.

After class and before heading home, Timothy is surprised by his quirky best friend, Angie (Vanessa Conway), who quickly deduces the dodgeball injury. However, Timothy’s mom (Peggy Roeder) assumes it was from a fight while she’s running out the door for work. Left alone with the book Ms Tebitt gave him, Timothy discovers a recipe for the love flower within the play’s script – and he decides to attempt the spell, perhaps in hopes of bringing his ongoing daydream fantasy of a world were being gay is normal to life. It doesn’t work – until he reads the last instruction: Sing. Slowly he starts:  “I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me, to fright me if they could. But I will not stir from this place, do what they can. I will walk up and down here and I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid. I am not afraid!” Suddenly, we’re thrust into a colourful and magical world as Timothy daydreams a musical spectacle between him and his crush, Jonathan.

Sadly the daydream fantasy does not last, as Angie awakes Timothy to show him the angel wings she created. But he’s more surprised at the flower from the spell before him! Will this flower create the love spell in real life? The next day at rehearsal, and under the knowing approval from Ms Tebitt, Timothy, playing Puck, uses the flower and pours glitter onto his crush Jonathan, who’s playing Lysander. It works! Timothy throws the flower into the air resulting in a rainfall of glitter, affecting everyone onstage. (Everyone except Ms Tebitt who opens up the umbrella she just happened to be carrying!) Timothy wraps up his the play with Puck’s final speech while his fantasy dream turns into reality: everyone is gay and Timothy is finally with Jonathan. The End.

The Magical Mess

Unfortunately, as much as I love the concept and what it blossomed into, “Fairies” has a few issues. The biggest issue is with the script; the story feels clipped and short (pun intended?) with questions that go unanswered such as why the class of boys go from reading the play in class to acting it out onstage as if it’s a performance? Why is the flower recipe even in the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” script? I also question the overall arch for the short; despite all the character conflict and the bullying by his peers, once Timothy magics his crush and the rest of his class into being gay, it just ends.  Sure, it’s a glorious, happy, and uplifting ending, but it just feels like there’s more to say. Even Tom Gustafson noted during an interview: “[“Fairies”] is really a one-joke film – Timothy turns everyone gay – The End.”

The other issues are with the editing and cinematographic elements. There are a few moments that are edited harshly, almost jarring, such as when Timothy has the dodgeball thrown at his face. Or later when we jump from the boys in Ms Tebitt’s class working individually, through Timothy’s daydream, to when we’re suddenly in the class on a different day and activity. I can understand the intent of the former but the result felt more like a record player skipping repetitively. The later would’ve been a great way to transition, but was missing a smooth transition. Lastly, I have an issue with the sound during the songs. I’m not overall fond of McKay’s higher notes; they come across awkwardly, though I feel that it’s more an issue with the sound quality & editing rather than the actor’s ability.

The “Luscious” Bits!

While I got a bit negative above, there are plenty of things about “Fairies” that I absolutely love! First off, it’s a mini-musical that incorporates the magic of Shakespeare’s Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The music and songs, a collaboration of Jessica Fogle, Tim Sandusky, and producer Cory Krueckeberg (as Cory James), are just brilliant. They’ve adopted Shakespeare’s verse and transcended it into an etherial world fitting for Timothy’s daydreams. When you add in the choreographed chorus of classmates in their winged go-go boy outfits, add in the half faced magical makeup for Timothy and Jonathan, amid the hanging white fairy lights – it’s simply incredible! I especially love the lead into the number which involves the makeup. Timothy starts to sing with only half his face in the camera’s view, sans makeup and in his bedroom. Suddenly, he turns his face frontal and we glimpse the makeup and gracefully move into that magical dreamworld of fairies.

The visuals appeal of “Fairies” goes beyond just the musical numbers. Right off the bad, there’s a simple but subtle pan across the boys white gym sneakers and white socks hanging over battered wooden bleachers. All uniform – until the end when we see the bright and colourful sneakers of Timothy. Right away, we know that Timothy is different from the other boys. The camera shots are focused and full framed; we only see the coach blowing his whistle, we see just the dodge balls. The set and set dressings are equally well thought out and help create the environment.

But the best thing I love about “Fairies” is the characterisation. Timothy is that awkward gay teenager who gets bullied and picked on by not only his classmates, but by his coach – all because he’s different. Many of us can relate as we have been bullied ourselves by our classmates. Ms Tebitt, played brilliantly by Wendy Robie, is the quirky English/Drama teacher who not only puts a quick stop to the bullying and snide comments, but encourages Timothy. There’s also a hint of mystique and magic about her, almost as if she’s stirring things up and bringing Timothy’s fantasies to real life!

still from "Fairies" - the magical script that reveals the love potion spell

Even though “Fairies” has since been turned into a feature-length film, there is something special and whimsical about this short film. The heart and the message of the story is clear. It lets us image the possibility of our fantasies becoming real; of actually wishing that the straight boy we have a secret crush on actual likes us back. “And all shall be well.”

Queer Relevance of “Fairies”

“Fairies” is certainly a queer film, but its significance in the oeuvre is larger than merely featuring a gay characters. There’s the obvious homophobia and bullying that questioning or out teenagers deal with, especially in the all-male boarding school environment. We get a glimpse of how demeaning that can be, but also see how Timothy, encouraged by his teacher, rises above that and lets his mind dream of a world where everyone is gay. We even get a bit of fairy magic, singing, dancing, and of course glitter. Yes, it’s definitely a queer short film!