Hydration (2020) seems like a direct response to Fyre (2019) and Fyre Fraud (2019), in both name and story. While those two documentaries looked to highlight the many failures of the fraudulent Fyre Festival, Hydration looks to highlight what the Something in the Water Festival did right for a community in Virginia. The movie shows many aspects of the community, the celebrities involved with the festivals, the “struggles” faced by bringing it to the Virginia Beach community, and the various reasons why events like this have failed or have been denied in the past. However, director Mimi Valdés isn’t quite able to string these pieces together in a way that seems particularly meaningful, or in a truly cohesive way that feels fulfilling by the end.
Valdés offers a number of perspectives from musical artists, community members who are affected in a variety of ways, and mostly Pharrell Williams who is responsible for bringing the festival to his hometown. There are moments that feel a little too heightened and self-congratulatory in the praise, ranging from focusing on everything that this festival is doing to even the “struggle” that went into getting it approved. Most of these story elements never really develop into anything.
These loose ends are abundant throughout the movie. At one point, Hydration introduces a local councilman who is one of the few African-American members on the council by showing him jogging in slow-motion as he tells his story. It’s a few minutes in length and appears to be of importance…and then he is never heard from again. He didn’t risk re-election, betray his community, take a bribe, or – well, to be honest, the movie doesn’t really explain why he is introduced at all. That happens time and time again, where a person is introduced…they have a few minutes of screen time, and it seems as though their plight may be a central narrative of this documentary. Yet, it never is. Another example is that of a single mother who is also a bus driver – clearly an attempt to come to how this festival will alleviate the financial struggles that members of the community have, but it also doesn’t go past this service level. However, the camera does get to ride on the bus to the festival. The only real set-up and pay-off here is seeing a group of students rehearsing a spoken word poem that they’ll perform at the festival.
That is ultimately what is missing from this: some throughline or lesson learned. The idea of a struggle is introduced but never explored. To be honest, the most conflicting part of the entire process is when the first day gets rained out. The footage of the giant storm looming over the city is quite enthralling, but the rest of the event goes off without a hitch. There is no scandal, and that’s great – but it kind of feels like the film really wanted one and never got it. Thus, when all was said and done, they were left with a bunch of false starts that wanted a catalyst or some kind of opposition but were instead met with well-behaved individuals. The film notes the positives, and they are great – but it is just missing that element to make all of the pieces congeal.
Hydration isn’t a bad movie, but it just clearly misses the mark several times. There is plenty here to enjoy whether you’re a fan of Pharrell or one of the many “friends” that show up (Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Dave Ghrol, Jay-Z, Tyler the Creator, Lil Uzi Vert, and more), or you’re just interested in seeing a community step-up in a big way to have something as large in scale as this after many people thought the racial tension would be impossible to overcome…which is yet another story angle that doesn’t get explored enough to be impactful. In the end, the film earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.