Directed by: Sebastián Silva (The Maid)
Starring: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Augustín Silva
Sebastián Silva’s Crystal Fairy — or to give it its full onscreen title, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 — was something of a surprise for me. It has hand-held camerawork of the less-than-stable variety. It has improvised dialogue. It stars Michael Cera. (It will be a long time before I forget Paper Heart or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, let alone forgive them.) Any one of these elements could be a deal-breaker for me. All together, these elements create a trifecta of terror — or so I would think. But somehow or other, I ended up finding the movie strangely compelling. There’s something appealing here — and this despite the fact that it can truly be said that if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the film. Seen it, but not felt it—and there is a difference.
The basics of the film are simple. Cera plays Jamie, an American more or less drifting through Chile on the apparent sufferance of his friend, Champa (Juan Andrés Silva). Jamie may not be quite the “Ugly American,” but he’s certainly the arrogantly clueless one. More than anything, he’s embarrassing and annoying (especially if you are an American). His big ambition is to get ahold of a San Pedro cactus so he can extract some mescaline and trip on the beach — an enterprise that Champa and his brothers (all played by brothers of the director) fall in with, though with somewhat less excitement than Jamie. To complicate matters, Jamie gets coked and liquored-up at a party and invites neo-hippie Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) to go along. His Chilean compatriots don’t mind her as much as Jamie does. Both Jamie and Crystal Fairy want to be in charge, and they see each other as a threat. (Whether this is an American trait, you decide.) Story-wise, all that happens is they get the cactus, go to the beach, distill it and trip on the beach. In other words, everything you saw in the trailer. But the story isn’t what the film is about.
What makes the film worth seeing is the gradual erosion of who and what we think Jamie and Crystal Fairy are. But (and this is the real selling point for me) the film does all this without stating a single thing, without telling you anything much about them. Crystal Fairy tells a traumatic story about herself, but the film never tries to use this to explain her. In fact, it never explains anything, concludes anything and, thank goodness, never turns into anything approaching a rom-com. When the film starts, Jamie is an irritating jerk, and Crystal Fairy’s impression of a 1960’s “free spirit” may be even worse. (You certainly understand why he regrets his drunken invitation and would love to ditch her.) By the time the film ends, they’re something else — but that “something else” is left to the viewer to feel. I like that. If you’re interested, catch it quick, because I don’t see this one lasting. Not Rated, but contains strong language, adult themes, drug use and a lot of naked Gaby Hoffman.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas