Not even close to a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas styled bacchanal, but a definite step above a Vice travelogue on the same subject, director Sebastián Silva’s psychotropic road movie Crystal Fairy (or more properly – Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus and 2012 – according to the fill on screen title) gets a lot of mileage out of a pair of well crafted leading performances from actors Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman.
Loosely based on a similar experience Silva had at one time, Cera plays Jamie, an entitled and boorish American gallivanting around Chile with his local buddies (played by Silva and his own real life brothers) in hopes of scoring a hard to find San Pedro cactus that can get him extremely high when cooked down. His compadres are uneasy with Jamie’s off putting behaviour, but they’re even more bewildered when the titular hippy girl (Hoffman) joins them on their excursion to trip out on the beach after Jamie unwittingly gives her his phone number and directions to meet up while coked and drunk out of his mind.
Produced by No director Pablo Larrain, Crystal Fairy isn’t a character study or particularly plot driven. It’s extremely relaxed, laid back, and kind of freewheeling with the only real tension coming from Jamie’s rotten attitude and Crystal Fairy’s open hearted, but abrasive tendencies. It’s a simplistic and airy tale of two opposing forces and the unlucky souls caught between them who wish everyone would just shut up and have a good time since they are being such gracious hosts. Silva certainly paints a pretty enough picture and for the kind of film he’s trying to make, it’s all adequately mounted. There’s not a heck of a lot that can be said for this kind of flick except that it stays engaging without really ever doing a heck of a lot.
The film exists more as a testament to the underrated talents of Cera and Hoffman than as an entertaining or really all that interesting movie. Cera (who also teamed up with Silva for the as-yet-unreleased thriller Magic Magic) nails the inhospitable American tourist act perfectly. He’s not going for laughs here and nothing he says is ever meant to be taken funny except by Jamie himself. He’s a selfish, petulant, impatient brat who constantly imposes upon and asserts himself onto everyone around him. He has a charm and smoothness, and while his friends at times seem like they don’t want to be around him, it’s easy to see why they stay. He’s exactly the kind of person who has only ever read one book in his life that ever made an impact on him and he’ll quote it to everyone around him like its gospel. He also refuses to ever take no for an answer without getting snippy or passive aggressive about it. Again, none of that is done with humour. Jamie is an asshole, which is a type of character Cera has played before, but this time without the actor having to wink and nod at the audience reassuringly.
As his direct counterpart, Hoffman gives a decidedly unglamorous and delicately balanced performance. Looking considerably older than her character is supposed to be, but more or less looking age appropriate in real life, Hoffman captures the naturalistic impulses of Crystal Fairy nicely. One moment she can be dispensing knowledgeable life advice, and the next she could be praying naked over a dead animal trying to will it to life. It’s hard to tell most of the time what her actual problems are. Maybe she’s become permastoned or there’s something else psychologically wrong with her. Nothing becomes apparent until the very end with a sort of left field series of twists that still don’t fully explain everything. Thanks to Hoffman’s work, none of it really needs to. Crystal Fairy seems perfectly content being herself even in moments of self doubt, and there’s a certain amount of bravery that goes along with displaying such loopy confidence.
Silva hasn’t crafted a particularly deep or even all that thoughtful film, but it does feel authentic to the experience being portrayed. It helps immeasurably that Cera and Hoffman bring their A-game to the production. They’re the perfect duo to take this trip with, making a leisurely trip to go get high on a beach into something more memorable and worthy of ever looking back on.