Crystal Fairy is something of an enigma for me. Although the direction was perfect, it seemed to be conflicted about what it wanted to be.
I narrowed it down to one of two things: a character study of a true asshole, Jamie (Michael Cera) or, as phrased by someone coming out of my screening, “an awkward existential comedy-drama.” By awkward, I did not take him to mean negatively, just that the characters themselves are kind of awkward.
There are a fair number of spoilers in this review. I do not think it matters if anything is spoiled, because of the strange type of film it is, but you may. If you don’t like spoilers, do not read on.
So that you understand what I am talking about as I attempt to analyze Crystal Fairy, I will give you a quick synopsis. Jamie is an American in Chile with some friends, all brothers, Champa (Juan Andrés Silva), Lel (José Miguel Silva), and Pilo (Agustín Silva). They are going down to a beach to use a famous hallucinogenic cactus that Jamie obsesses over. Right before they leave, Jamie gets high on cocaine, smokes weed, as well as gets incredibly drunk at a party. There he meets Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), a strange hippy American girl. He does not like her very much, but invites her on their trip because he is high and drunk. They go to the beach and get high on the cactus.
That is it, plot-wise. That is not a bad thing; it does not need plot. It was funny and interesting enough to keep me engaged without such things.
Herein lies my dilemma: as a character study of Jamie, it really works. It follows him around the whole time. There are very, very few scenes he is not in (maybe 5% of the film). To put it bluntly, he is a twat, claiming (despite evidence and witnesses to suggest otherwise) that he did not invite Crystal Fairy. The whole time she is with them he insults her to her face (and behind her back).
Crystal Fairy goes on rants about the world from time to time. She thinks the world is going to end at the end of 2012 (the year it takes place in the film). She is nude a lot. She only eats vegetables. She talks about good and bad karma. She is nothing Jamie is used to. Jamie is the type of guy that instantly judges someone, and if he judges you ‘poorly,’ he would let you know. He is a dick. After they all take the drugs, Crystal Fairy instantly acts ‘weird’. Personally, I think she was acting like she always did, but Jamie thinks she is pretending to be under the effects of the drugs (“And my friend said they only occur 120 minutes later!”) He calls her out, calling her personality weird. After she exits, visibly upset, he says something along the lines of, “I NEEDED to tell her. I don’t think anyone ever told her that before.”
This sentence tells the audience everything needed to know about his character. She clearly has heard it before from other assholes, judging by her reaction. He is ignorant of that at first, but when his other friends mention that he didn’t need to say that, he gets insecure and begins to understand his mistake. This sentence also shows that no one has ever told him that he was a dick before, making the moment (by the friends) more important to him.
He grows more and more insecure due to his brothers’ comments, in part because he never heard anyone say that about him before, and because the cactus has caused him to flip out far more than he would have otherwise. He then makes it his quest to find her and apologize. Apparently when drugged, it is very easy to get lost, and very hard to find someone. They have no luck while under the influence of the cactus. This made for some funny moments. It was hard, though, to watch this segment due to the humor. For one thing, I felt like laughing, because it was, well, funny. Yet, for how clearly unraveled Jamie seemed to be, I almost felt like crying. A very bipolar moment for me; it was incredibly effective.
This part of my review must make Crystal Fairy out to be a very, very deep and insightful character piece. It is, it is very solid, in part due to Silva’s direction, and in part due to Cera’s kick-ass performance in a role unlike anything he has ever done before. Hoffmann is also a stand out, and the brothers do pretty well themselves. The sound editing is pretty hilarious, putting some humorous music splattered here and there, like horror music when Jamie gets a call from the Fairy.
Having said all of that, I must get to the possible analysis that makes the film not work nearly as well: the awkward existential comedy-drama. While it nails the comedy-drama, Crystal Fairy’s rants about the meaning of the world go on for awhile. The brothers and Jamie all seem to have some sort of problems too, becoming worrisome over their point. They all (but Jamie) explain their fears in life around a campfire. Fairy tells Jamie that he clearly has a fear of sharing with others, about opening himself up. This is an incredibly insightful look at Jamie, about how he must feel, going to Chile just to get high on some hallucinogen created by a cactus. We know nothing about him other than this. What is his point? What is the point of everyone else’s journey to where they are? Those are questions brought up in this film, but it does not answer them.
I like ambiguity, it makes things interesting. But compared with the other massive part of the film, the character study? Not sure if it mixes. Silva certainly tries his damnedest, and he makes a film that is, at the VERY least, interesting to think about.
This is the second review of Crystal Fairy on You Won Cannes. For another take on this film by writer Ben Sayeg, visit this link.