Review: Too Long at the Fair
by: Sydney Urbanek
Somewhere in my parents’ house, there’s a Polaroid of me with Cinderella. The princess had been hired to be the centrepiece of my fifth birthday party; her presence there was almost certainly on the invitations my mom sent out. She showed up at our Toronto home with a trunk full of cheap makeup and face paint, and entertained a group of little girls in the basement for a couple of hours. I remember that she spoke with the high-pitched affectation of a pre-1980s Disney princess, that at one point she either sang or lip-synched to “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Everyone went home with a Polaroid like mine.
Aside from being suspicious during my party that this woman wasn’t really Cinderella, I’d never given much thought to her off-duty identity—that is, until watching Jessie Barr and Lena Hudson’s Too Long at the Fair, which recently made its online premiere. The 14-minute short follows two so-called princess party entertainers, Charlie (Barr) and Val (Hudson), over the course of a day of work gone awry.
We catch up with the two women—best friends as well as co-princesses—as they’re being turned away from their latest job. They’ve shown up late, first of all, but they’ve also come dressed as a woodland nymph and a fairy instead of the standard Disney characters. “Luckily, we were able to find real princesses,” the irritated mom at the door tells them, just as a young woman dressed as Beauty and the Beast’s Belle comes into view. Charlie and Val are cash-strapped twenty-somethings who were just looking to inject an ounce of creativity into a tried-and-true format.
As they stew on the front lawn, smoking and accepting that they’re likely headed for eviction, a handsome dad leaving the party (The Mindy Project’s Chris Messina) catches their attention. His name is Lee; he’d love a cigarette; he has a pool for them to cool off in, if they’d like. The three spend the afternoon drinking and getting high at his massive L.A. home—he’s a divorced dermatologist, they learn—until their conversations turn more serious. Charlie and Val might still earn their keep for the day, just not the way they’d intended. They may have stayed too long at this particular fair, and it’s their friendship that’s most at stake.
Short as it is, Too Long at the Fair packs a lot of punch. It straddles comedy and drama throughout, jumping from one pole to the other when you’re least expecting it. Plot wise, the film recalls the pilot of Broad City, but makes a better effort to humanize all sides of its central economic exchange. Messina is particularly impressive as Lee, the lonely divorcé who seems most concerned about how the split will affect his seven-year-old.
When I called my mom to fact-check the intro for this review, she remembered that Cinderella was very late to my birthday, just like Charlie and Val. She’d just finished leaving a frustrated voicemail for the princess when she rang the doorbell. My mom didn’t turn her away—“I had a basement full of four-year-olds waiting for Cinderella”—and she’d forever be the highlight of the party. Too Long at the Fair is obviously a very different princess party story, but it has me thinking for the first time about the young women who do this work. Maybe, like Charlie and Val, my princess had moved to the big city to do something very different. “Remember all the plans we had when we came out here?” Val asks Charlie. The film’s smallest moments are some of its most indelible, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.
Follow more of Too Long at the Fair and creator Jessie Barr and Lena Hudson’s work check out their site!
Sydney Urbanek (@sydurbanek) is a culture writer and incoming Cinema Studies MA candidate. Based in Toronto, she writes about movies, music videos, and chronic illness. She knows the “Telephone” choreography but please don’t ask her to do it.