Review: ‘The Green Fairy’ is a groan-inducing fantasy nonfiction ode to absinthe

The belief that absinthe induces hallucinations is the stuff of ignorance and myth, as “The Green Fairy,” a “fantasy documentary” about the long-banned quaff, goes to tortured lengths to chronicle. But consider it a matter of scientific certainty that the film will induce groans from its audience.

Like a wedding toast gone awry, the movie doesn’t know where to begin or end and is cluttered with factoids and awkward asides. Over 90 very long minutes, director Dan Frank (“Speed Dragon”) traces the wormwood-based spirit’s rise in popularity from an 18th-century medicinal elixir to a mass-distilled product, and then its vilification as an intoxicant associated with antisocial behavior and violence by a growing temperance movement.

From its opening eight-minute rant against prohibitionists, the doc unfolds as an erratic cocktail of the scolding, the celebratory and the sensationalistic. Vying for screen time are faux vintage footage, info-dispensing talking heads and cockamamie dramatizations featuring the late wrestler Roddy Piper as Oscar Wilde (!) and Linda Blair as a murder victim, all set against the soft-porn thump of the nonstop score. Narration delivered by Richard Grieco, laced with mispronounced French, fills in the missing historical pieces.

In absinthe’s Swiss birthplace and its stateside home of New Orleans, the filmmaker enlists the expertise of personable connoisseurs. But he does them no favors by letting their interviews play out at laxly edited length. At the opposite end of the knowledge scale, he represents the drink’s exaggerated seductiveness: Green-tinged actresses in skimpy get-ups vamp away, fugitives from an exploitation flick set in Oz.


‘The Green Fairy’


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood

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