A warm drama about the dynamics between an odd group of people embarking on a new experience.
According to a recent New York Times article, Michael Cera’s latest film, Crystal Fairy, began to shoot when financing for a different film with Chilean director Sebastián Silva fell through. The result, based on an outline by Silva about an obnoxious foreigner studying abroad in Chile, who will stop at nothing to try the psychedelic cactus San Pedro, presents a seemingly effortless character study with subtle, yet joyous revelations. Crystal Fairy is especially welcome this summer as it emerges on Friday amongst the din of soulless blockbusters to gently penetrate our hearts with a surprisingly universal story. While the film embraces the device of drug use it is not a drug movie, but a warm drama about the dynamics between an odd group of people embarking on a new experience.
Silva takes his time setting up the different members of his “team,” first revealing the obnoxious, self-conscious Jamie, played with startling honesty by Cera, and his Chilean roommate, Champa. We meet these two at a house party where Jamie laments the availability of good Chilean cocaine, like an absence of fine wines in Napa, while Champa reassures everyone that Jesse isn’t really such an asshole. Jamie’s drug connoisseurship at once makes him unfortunately familiar and immediately unlikable, yet Cera’s easy humor sustains him. Jamie and Champa’s plan to try mescaline slips out when Jamie meets Crystal Fairy, an eccentric hippy played brilliantly by Gaby Hoffman, who he disingenuously invites along without considering she would actually accept. The next day, Champa, his two younger brothers, and Jamie cruise toward the Northern coast until Crystal intersects them by bus at a village along the way. Jamie, beside himself, cannot fathom that she would crash their plans, to which Champa calmly replies, “you invited her, man.” The dynamic of their drug bound bro-trip shifts wildly as this wayward pixie inserts herself into the clan, which hilariously jives well with everyone except Jamie.
Once the team is assembled Crystal Fairy becomes startlingly familiar on a primal level as every oddly matched group trip you’ve ever taken slowly oozes into the back of your mind. Silva’s scenario presents a more colorful and exotic version of our collective adventure-memory as the gang road-trips their way through expansive deserts, strange villages, and finally the serene ocean. Cinematographer, Cristián Petit-Laurent, captures both the beauty of the surroundings and the subtle interactions between characters with an easy going style of loose framing and natural light that firmly places viewers within the story.
As (almost) everyone begins taking the hard won psychedelics, the film’s style remains firmly planted in reality, avoiding any Fear and Loathing hallucinations, in order to further examine the raw fears, joys, and insecurities previously hinted at within each character. Silva graciously grants all his characters their moment, although it’s Jamie who has the most growing to do. Each small revelation thankfully manages to skirt cliché and Silva’s masterful control of his cast allows for a natural, yet subtle epiphany for Jamie, while the drug use diffuses his vulnerability with a welcome degree of humor without diminishing its impact. Whether you like it or not you’ll see familiar glimmers of yourself within all the characters of Crystal Fairy and hopefully Silva’s touching film will provide a much needed respite from the current slew of inhuman Hollywood mediocrity.