There’s something strangely haunting about “Crystal Fairy,” which is probably the quality that makes it an interesting and worthwhile film in spite of the fact that not all that much happens and the main characters are unlikeable and overbearing.
Written and directed by Sebastian Silva and set in his native Chile, the story focuses on Jamie (Michael Cera), a young American who doesn’t seem to have much going on other than doing drugs and blathering incessantly.
Jamie is generally a horrible person. He’s passive-aggressive, self-absorbed, and patronizing. His roommate Champa (Juan Andres Silva, one of three of Sebastian’s brothers to appear in the movie) seems to have infinite patience with him and decently tolerates all of Jamie’s awfulness.
It’s unclear why Jamie is officially in Chile. Is he studying abroad? Is he a family friend of Champa’s? The real reason for his visit becomes obvious fairly quickly as Jamie is dying to take a hallucinogenic cactus called the San Pedro that only grows in a certain region of the country. (In fact, the movie’s full title is “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012”) I suspect this stuff is much ballyhooed on hipster message boards.
At any rate, Champa and his two younger brothers Lel (Jose Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Agustin Silva) agree to take Jamie on a road trip to find the cactus then camp out on the beach.
At a party the night before the trip, Jamie meets a fellow American, a free spirit who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) and he drunkenly invites her to join them the next day.
Champa, ever the good sport, agrees to take her on even when a hungover Jamie tries to renege on his invitation.
Crystal is almost a hippie chick stereotype with her unshaven body (Jamie calls her “Crystal Hairy”) and New Age spirituality.
Jamie clearly resents her presence on the trip (conveniently forgetting that he was the one who invited her in the first place), but Champa and his brothers happily go with the flow and seem charmed by Crystal’s earnestness.
An ugly tension that often surrounds drug people permeates the movie and you can’t help but feel something terrible will happen. Fortunately, nothing ever does, and as the group acquires the cactus and partakes of it on the beach as that tension gets resolved in an oddly life-assuring way.
Cera is solid in the role of an oppressive jerk. He’s every guy you met at a college party who couldn’t stop talking about how he couldn’t wait to get out of (insert present location) and get to New York City where people were “real.” (If met in New York City, couldn’t wait to get to Pairs or Amsterdam).
The real revelation though is Hoffmann, who has had a lengthy career as a child actress (you may remember her as the cute kid in “Uncle Buck” and “Field of Dreams”).
If this role brings her much recognition it will be for her “bravery” as she rivals Lena Dunham in the copious frumpy-nudity department. But her best work is with her clothes on as her free spirit masks a very complex, much-damaged individual.
Silva is a talented director who takes in the scenic beauty of his homeland while never once losing focus of the characters at the center of his story. He smartly uses his brothers and their shrugged-shoulders acceptance of Jamie and Crystal to ensure his movie didn’t wind up feeling like a judgy condemnation of obnoxious Americans abroad.
Ultimately, “Crystal Fairy” is a film about redemption and what’s great about movies is that you only have to spend an hour and a half with these oblivious people before they get it. If only real life could be this efficient.
“Crystal Fairy” is not rated but contains language, drug use, and graphic nudity.