A divertingly pleasant comedy, the third written, directed by, and featuring a Belgian-Australian-French trio of clowns, The Fairy is most beguiling in its initial sequences of a harried Le Havre hotel night manager (Dominique Abel) coping with a series of interruptions and crises, including the registration of a flighty female guest (Fiona Gordon) who claims to be a wish-granting fairy. These performer-creators traffic in a retrospective farcical world of pastel-accented sets and immaculate framing which serves their almost mathematically precise gags, using as raw materials a dog (to be camouflaged in a travel bag by a nervous lodger), a scooter for vehicular misadventure, a bottlecap dropped unnoticed into a sandwich to set up an extended choking scene, store-window mannequins (to be impersonated), and a nearsighted barman (Bruno Romy, Abel and Gordon’s filmmaking partner) who keeps the end of his nose fixed to a glass of beer as he serves it. The cumulative effect isn’t so much of mid 20th-century comedic styles nostalgically preserved in amber, but a successful if mild attempt to re-employ tools that have fallen into disuse, from Jacques Tati’s long-shot street tableaus to Jerry Lewis’s scenes of quietly mounting chaos and surreal chases. Blessedly lacking the aren’t-we-quaint self-consciousness of The Artist, this crew gives their revival of slapstick, minimal dialogue, and archetypal characters a life of their own, however fitfully.
As affection blossoms between tenuously employed Dom and the frequently escaping inpatient Fiona, The Fairy puts their outsider romance into an environment equally contrary and benign; allies are eventually found in both the pooch-smuggling English tourist and three clandestine African immigrants (who, though they steal, don’t smell of racial caricature, as Gordon’s free-spirit heroine blithely resorts to theft too), however punishing Dom’s boss and Fiona’s therapists are (“There are no fairies” is written endlessly on a blackboard in her hospital room). The two leads, near physical comps to U.S. TV icons Don Knotts and Carol Burnett, perform a goofy underwater dance and a follow-up on a rooftop which climaxes in a swift childbirth; it’s little wonder that as the film turns more plot-oriented, it has less room for such cutely engineered jaw-droppers. There are hints of the pathos that Lewis’s errand boys or disorderly orderlies indulged in, but the most sentimental moment is a highlight, as a zaftig rugby enthusiast sweetly croons a Kurt Weill song in Romy’s tavern, temporarily seizing the film whole. And in a road chase unapologetically backgrounded with rear projection, the better for Gordon’s narrow limbs to make a perfect X as she stretches between cars to rescue her baby, The Fairy reclaims wackiness with a bliss that’s hard to deny.