The psychedelic harmoniousness of the 1960s lives on in Sebastián Silva’s indelibly sweet Crystal Fairy. Filmed in only two weeks, this South American road trip movie is less about the pleasures of psychedelic drugs than it is about a group of friends bonding together for one common adventure. Topics of gender, humanity, and culture are explored with honest curiosity. The revelations that come about demonstrate how a group of people, with different outlooks on life, can co-exist compatibly so long as they accept each individual’s idiosyncrasies. Silva’s strength as a director is his ability to trust his cast without reservation. He vibes off their chemistry and lingers the camera on dialogue scenes a little longer than most filmmakers would, just to capture the power of realism that comes from improvisation.
Yep, during a Q&A session following the screening, Silva admitted that there was no working script and that his talented cast invented their own ingenious lines. Silva provided them with an outline of the story — as this film is based on an experience he had in his youth — but the actors filled in the rest, fully understanding his vision and tone. While Crystal Fairy is guilty for meandering at times, at least it does so with wonderful style; montage footage is spliced together with spellbinding pop and jazz tunes. Following the mixed yet mostly positive response from Sundance, Crystal Fairy either works for you or leaves you dazed, confused and irritated. Personally, it wasn’t the summer movie I was expecting but I’m so glad it spread its pixie dust of jubilation all over me.
Crystal Fairy takes a very different approach to the “boy-meets-girl” scenario. Jamie (Michael Cera), an American who visits Chile for the summer in the hopes of imbibing San Pedro cactus juice for hallucinogenic purposes, is beyond enthused upon meeting another girl (Gaby Hoffman) from the States at a local Santiago house party. While high on cocaine, Jamie invites the enigmatic American girl — who simply goes by “Crystal Fairy” — on a weekend road trip with his Chilean roommate and two younger brothers (Silva’s real-life siblings: Juan, José, and Augustín). The plan is to travel to a desert village and buy a San Pedro cactus from one of the locals, cook and drink the cactus juice, and subsequently get higher than a rocket in space. Crystal Fairy obliges and tells the boys she’ll meet them at a town square close to their destination. The problem: Jamie, sober the next morning and back to his neurotic-self, completely forgets he even invited Crystal Fairy and begins to panic when she calls him to confirm her arrival at the designated meeting spot. After rescuing Crystal Fairy from a misunderstanding that escalates to violence, Jamie proposes to his Chilean pals that they ditch their new companion. The eldest sibling rightfully shoots down Jamie’s suggestion and gives a “she’s one of the family” speech, which further irritates Jamie.
If there’s one flaw in Crystal Fairy, it’s that Jamie is just too unlikable a protagonist. Michael Cera does a fine job amplifying the character’s uptight persona, but more often than not I felt like the character of Jamie was a combination of Woody Allen and Jesse Eisenberg at their most intolerable. Jamie is a tunnel-visioned control freak, who insists on being the boss of this weekend excursion and excoriates those — specifically the free-spirited force of nature that is Crystal Fairy — who don’t comply with his step-by-step methodology on “how to have fun getting high.” Thank goodness Gaby Hoffman’s Crystal Fairy is there to balance Jamie’s twerpy antics. She’s nurturing, accepting and enjoys the simple pleasures of walking around in her birthday suit. There’s quite a bit of full-frontal female nudity in this film, but Hoffman shrugs it off and handles it with natural acceptance. You never get the sense that Silva is trying to objectify or sexualize Crystal Fairy. He demonstrates that the naked form is a natural one, not something that should be seen as controversial or taboo. This point is proven further by the fact that Jamie and Crystal Fairy’s relationship never rises to a romantic or sexual level — their arc of “strangers to friends” is beautiful in its platonic simplicity.
Crystal Fairy’s best moments occur when the coterie arrive at a beach with their San Pedro cactus in tow. There’s a poetic lyricism imbued in these scenes, as the group bonds together intimately and becomes entirely one with nature. Their interactions with natural elements like the ocean, sand and sea shells cast aside whatever stress is plaguing each of them, especially the always unnerved Jamie (who humorously goes by “Pollo” because of his chicken-like strut). Without spoiling too much of the ending, its abruptness may annoy some but makes perfect sense when you realize how different relationships change when a deeply personal secret is revealed. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
If you think Crystal Fairy is nothing but a drug-centric indie in which the characters riff off one another with “kumbaya” energy and offer little in the way of comedy, you’d be dead wrong. I cannot tell you how many times I howled with laughter by some of the things said, or events that occurred, within the narrative. From something as random yet realistic as a turd not disappearing after flushing the toilet, to a hilarious game of “Would You Rather…,” to the confused looks that remain even after English is translated to Spanish, Crystal Fairy isn’t without plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Gaby Hoffman, however, is the best find of the entire venture: an actress that gives her all to this zany, eccentrically wonderful character with effortless aplomb. I cannot wait to rediscover her fine talents again. And Silva, deserving winner of “Best Director” for this film at Sundance earlier this year, crafts a simple yet deeply personal work of art with enough heart, laughs, and psychedelic fun to always be remembered.
Make sure to check out IFC Films’ Crystal Fairy when it hits theaters on July 12th, 2013.