SIFF Film Review – Crystal Fairy
Michael Cera has got to stop playing the same character in every movie. Even when he’s playing an ass, as he does in the new film Crystal Fairy—which I saw at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival—he’s basically the same guy, just super annoying and self-obsessed. (Maybe a little less quirky, but I often find the level of his quirk to be a function of the director and not Cera himself.) I bought it this time just like I always do, but it’s got to stop; I want to see him play a scientist or a pirate. Anything. He’s going to start aging out of the neurotic hipster roles, and it’s going to be sad if he can’t pull off the neurotic dad characters. Rant over.
In Crystal Fairy, Cera plays Jamie, a young American hanging out and doing drugs in Chile. The night before he and his friends take off for a mescaline trip on the beach, he—after smoking pot and snorting cocaine—invites a new acquaintance, Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), to travel with them. The next day, he doesn’t remember inviting her, and is somewhat surprised when she calls and expects him to come pick her up in the town square. He is obsessed with finding someone to sell them a Don Pedro cactus, the source of the mescaline, while she is a New-Agey traveler in it for the experience. He not only finds her annoying, but worries that he is losing credibility with the three brothers he’s traveling with (real-life brothers Agustín, José Miguel, and Juan Andrés Silva). The brothers seem fine with Crystal Fairy and are more annoyed with Jamie for his single-minded obsession with finding the drug and having a mind-altering experience. Jamie is so focused on the trip he wants to have that he cannot enjoy the trip he’s on. Eventually, they find a cactus and make their way to the beach, where they take the drugs and expand their minds.
Some movies take a long time for me to get into, and this was one of them. I found the first half of to be tedious, and spent a certain amount of time wishing I had chosen another movie to review. It’s not horrible, but honestly, as a 45-year-old woman, watching young people take drugs and be annoying is boring. I did that in real life 25 years ago, and it wasn’t that interesting then. It does set up the second half of the film, but I just wish it had been paced better. Basically, Jamie spends the whole time talking about the mystical aspects of taking mescaline, and then behaving like the type of person who could never really let himself be changed by that experience. Crystal Fairy is similarly stunted. She broadcasts an earth-mother openness, but uses clichéd opinions and concerns to obfuscate who she really is and what she wants.
The second half of the film is where things get interesting. What this movie does well is something that is really hard to do on the screen, which is to accurately portray what it’s like to be with a group who are tripping together. At its best, taking hallucinogenics with other people can be a transformative experience that changes not only the individual, but creates a new group dynamic. It can also suck pretty hard if there’s a jerk in the group. At no point in the film does the trip behavior seem silly or unrealistic. (NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ABOUT THAT KIND OF THING.)
The most complicated thing about this film is Crystal Fairy, and that is both a good and bad thing. The brothers are amiable, but mostly serve as foreign background, which is problematic in the sense that they are not the foreigners. Jamie is clearly defined pretty early on, and never emerges as a nuanced character. Crystal Fairy is the only one with any real backstory, and, unfortunately, no one else is as finely drawn as she. I also have some issues with the gender politics of the whole thing. She is portrayed as “the other” and is kept emotionally distant from the male characters. Her experience is quite different, and she is not allowed the same kind of resolution they are. Also, she does spend a considerable amount of the movie naked, which I will give a pass this time because it is not sexualized and it fits in with her character. But still, I felt writer/director Sebastián Silva wussed out on her storyline.
So, I found the first half to be a bore, but in the end, I came around; there’s a lot to like here when you take the picture as a whole. I can’t completely recommend it, but if you go see it, you’ll probably get something out of the experience. I did, and there were times I wasn’t quite sure I would.
Final Grade: C+