Movie Review: Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus (2013, Dir. Sebastián Silva)

Crystal Fairy Review

Judging by the name or the poster or the trailer, Crystal Fairy presents itself as a number of different things. Is it a drug movie? A romantic comedy? A surreal something or other? For the most part it’s none of these, and I think it’s deliberately misleading. This film is as realistic as they come.

The story is about Jaimie (Michael Cera), a loutish American who lives in Chile and is constantly seeking the next drug-aided good time. He meets Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), another American who seems to be some sort of Frida Kahlo wannabe, and he invites her to accompany him and his three Chilean buddies (Silva, the director’s brothers) to the beach where they intend to drink a psychedelic cactus. This is also inexplicably set in 2012, which I assume is because it was filmed that year. Anyway, it’s in the title so I thought I’d mention it.

So, that’s the summary. Crystal Fairy is really about two Americans far from home who, like the title, the poster, and the trailer, present themselves as something they are not. The energy they put into these false personas reveals how clueless they are to their own obnoxiousness. As is typical, they see it glaring from each other but not in themselves.

Part of the suspense is seeing how long this group of easy going Chileans and boorish Americans will last. The Chileans seem to have a bottomless pit of patience for these two who seem to be forcing their fantasies of a cultural experience onto that very culture. Jaime constantly pushes hard to get to the beach and drink the cactus, while Crystal is all about being new age, eating kale (only when people are looking), and experiencing the moment. One is for escaping, the other is for tarrying. Neither considers what the others in the group want. Almost immediately they get on each other’s nerves, and on the nerves of the audience for that matter, but the extent they go to present themselves as “cool” or “inspiring” or whatever becomes hysterical to watch. Meanwhile, the Chileans are just marveling at their behavior. You can almost see their thought bubbles – “Americans sure are weird.” Finally, Jaime’s and Crystal’s tenuously held personas crumble as their vulnerabilities get revealed. It’s a very touching, very real moment that becomes one of the funniest as well.

The sad truth is that Jaime and Crystal are our cultural ambassadors. We have all become one of them at some point in time. We definitely have been around people like them more than once. What they believe to be unique expressions of individuality, in reality, just come off as “typically American” to the rest of the world.

Moving on to the actors themselves, Gaby Hoffman steals the show without a doubt. She has this risk-taking sensibility akin to Asia Argento, but clearly has a sense of humor about it. Michael Cera comes the closest I’ve seen him to stepping out of that charmingly neurotic Aspergers schtick we’ve seen in like everything he has acted in before. It’s not so much a broadening of his range, but a deepening that makes his character more human. Honestly, I really wanted to hate him in this, but he plays a hateable character so well. Silva has brought something new out of him, and I sense from their next film, Magic Magic, that this growth will continue.

You won’t find anything too inspiring in the art direction, cinematography, or the soundtrack, which is a compilation of some great music, but nothing too distractingly good. I’m fine with this, because I put story above all else, and Crystal Fairy delivers.

See this movie. In fact, see every Sebastián Silva movie. I loved The Maid. This guy knows character so well, and masterfully uses it in simple yet compelling storytelling.

Crystal Fairy opens July 12.

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