‘Crystal Fairy’ Plays in NYC @ IFC Center
‘Crystal Fairy,’ Sebastián Silva’s new drug-laden indie road comedy starring Michael Cera as an American nomad in Chile, offers low-key comedic pleasures thanks to the easy chemistry of its ensemble cast. Though it is thinly plotted with extreme slow patches, the film manages an incisive look at how damaged young adults can improve themselves by bonding with others.
The film centers on Jamie (Cera) and a group of companions as they set out for San Pedro in search of a mescaline-producing cactus. Apart from Jamie, the group consists of Jamie’s roommate Champa (Juan Andrés Silva) and Champa’s three brothers. At the last second, they are joined by an American twenty-something who instantly annoys the group with her head-in-the-clouds new age philosophy. She says her name is Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann).
Together they seek out houses with San Pedro cacti in their front yards, and try to find someone willing to sell. The characters bounce leisurely bilingual dialogue off each other. The cast has an easy, infectious chemistry; at times the film almost seems unscripted.
But even though “Crystal Fairy” is an ensemble comedy, this is Jamie’s story. In an often light film, Jamie is a complex character. Michael Cera’s well-known and oft-mocked affectations – the stammering agitation and constant anxiety – are still present. Yet Jamie is a drug-seeking wanderer wearing a long ragged shock of dirty blond hair – hardly a comic creation alone. In one scene, he invites two prostitutes to his apartment, just to make them dinner. Later, he stammers his surprise when they get bored and decide to leave. Cera may affect the same nervous mannerisms that made ‘Arrested Development’s’ George Michael Bluth seem awkward and innocent. But here they make Jamie seem insular, depressed, and lonely. Unlike other Cera roles, Jamie feels real.
Alas, Crystal does not. Whether ranting about bad karma or fretting over the Mayan calendar and the end of the world, she usually comes off as a pastiche of new age hippie-chick clichés. Any attempts at character development arrive too late in the game. For instance, an emotionally wrenching monologue from Crystal about a past trauma comes deep in “Crystal Fairy’s” runtime. Much credit goes to Gaby Hoffmann for elevating the role with an enthusiastic and heartfelt performance. But the character does not transcend stereotype, at least for the bulk of the film.
She does make an excellent foil for Jamie, however. In one scene she emerges from a motel bathroom stark naked. Champa and his brothers are amused. Jamie is uncomfortable and encourages her to put her clothes on. All fearless self-expression, she compels Jamie to confront his insularity and inhibition. And very subtly, he begins to respond.
“Crystal Fairy” hits a narrative dead end once the characters arrive at the long third act having already acquired their Holy Grail, no goals in sight other than getting high. Watching the characters beg confused homeowners for their cacti is far more engaging than watching them swim in the ocean and play in the sand. But the film still manages to ride out on a high note, largely due to the bittersweet crescendo of Jamie’s relationship with Crystal. His incremental and hard-won emotional growth becomes apparent as he begins to appreciate the positive impact she has had on his life. Through all its flaws, “Crystal Fairy” is a poignant portrayal of the healing power of community. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of people trying to get high.
— David Teich