Editor’s note: Our review of Crystal Fairy originally ran during this year’s L.A. Film Fest, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens in limited theatrical release this Friday.
We all want to lose ourselves sometimes. To find those perfect moments where you do not have a care in the world and you feel close and in harmony with all those around you. But rarely can you manufacture or plan for these moments, they simply happen. Uptight and pretentious Jamie (Michael Cera) is a person who definitely needs a moment like this to loosen him up, but he is so desperate to achieve what he believe will be a transformative high, he is missing the possibly more meaningful moments leading up to it.
Jamie is living abroad in Chile and his boorish behavior is the epitome of a “rude American.” He is entitled and says everything he is thinking, but his good natured roommate puts up with it, despite the fact that Jamie clearly only wants one thing from him – to drive him to the beach to finally imbibe in some San Pedro cactus.
Jamie is clearly obsessed with drugs and what he believes are intelligent, esoteric thoughts, but when he meets Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), a free spirit literally dancing to the beat of her own drummer, he may have just met his match. In his altered state he invites Crystal along on the trip, but of course regrets it the following morning, trying to convince his friends to simply leave her behind. Crystal is certainly a handful, showing up in the midst of a scuffle with a group of other women and discarding her clothing whenever she feels like it, but she is honest in a way Jamie pretends to be and the group adopts her in, despite Jamie’s attempts to turn them against her.
This random group of travelers certainly make for an interesting adventure, and while Crystal’s antics of giving the group magic rocks and offering healing continuously draw the focus to her, watching Jamie become increasingly threatened by her becomes even more interesting. The boys are simply on the trip for some fun, Crystal is simply there to connect with something new, but Jamie’s obsession with the San Pedro cactus and finally experiencing its effects become both comedic and sad. The group is having a good time and creating actual memories together, but Jamie constantly disengages himself to literally stir a pot, more focused on the drug he came there to consume rather than the people he is there with.
Crystal stirs the pot in her own ways, asking the group about their biggest fears and inadvertently calling Jamie out on his “honesty” with her true ability to be completely vulnerable. Jamie is so desperate to have a good time with his friends and experience the high of the San Pedro cactus that he is missing the organic moments bringing the group together. The boys laugh it off and ignore him, but Crystal pushes him to reveal why he must keep everyone at arm’s length unless he is under the influence of something.
Hoffmann turns in a powerful and layered performance that is captivating to watch. Crystal is eccentric and strange, one of those hippy-dippy people you meet and find easy to disregard, but Hoffman infuses her performance with a raw sense of honesty that makes not only Jamie and his friends, but also the audience, unable to simply turn away.
Crystal Fairy could be dismissed as a movie about drugs and trying to embrace concepts bigger than oneself, but the quiet moments with Hoffmann make it a film worth watching for her performance alone. Director Sebastián Silva may have crafted a film of out there concepts and ideas, but he certainly knows how to create an environment to get memorable and moving performances out of his actors. Cera is infuriating as Jamie, a boy only focused on himself, but there is a reason the film is titled Crystal Fairy – this is not Jamie’s story, this is a story about a woman and how her complex nature changes those around her.
The Upside: Stunning performance from Hoffmann that officially breaks her away from her child actor roots; interesting visuals; Silva creates a more organic feeling of being high without relying on distorted camera movements and trippy music to do so.
The Downside: Scattered narrative; much of the film is spent trying to keep the focus on Cera, but Crystal Fairy truly shines when the focus is on Hoffman.
On the Side: Cera stars in another Silva film, Magic Magic, which is also set in Chile about a girl who may be dealing with more than she first lets on.