Title: Crystal Fairy
Genre(s): Adventure, Comedy
Director(s): Sebastian Silva
Release Year: 2013
In a trend that seems to have stemmed from the rumors years ago that Michael Cera was the one preventing season 4 of Arrested Development from happening, every film seems to want to make Michael Cera into an unlovable douche. This year’s This is the End (Review here) turned him into a cocaine-addicted womanizer, and in the latest season of Arrested Development, George Michael is kind of a jerk. Sebastian Silva’s latest comedy sheds the womanizing aspect of This is the End‘s Cera, and keeps the drug addiction as a means of explaining his insensitive ways. What happens is that Crystal Fairy becomes an endurance test of how much longer Jamie (Cera) can be an ass before things catch up to him. The movie meanders, harps a little too much on Jamie’s insensitivity, and has quirk that honestly does not feel like it belongs in this film.
The title of the film derives from a character that Jamie meets at a house party where he has snorted cocaine and drank quite a bit, whom he later invites to go with him and his friends on an adventure to find the San Pedro cactus, a famous hallucinogen in Chile. Of course, Jamie didn’t actually mean it, but Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) doesn’t know that and plans to meet them at San Pedro. The result of this is Jamie holding a grudge against Crystal Fairy the entire trip, being as passive aggressive as possible, attempting to get the rest of his group to leave her behind because he thinks she is way too weird. That about sums up the first two acts of the film, which spends its time pounding in the fact that Jamie is a jerk who only cares about drugs. There’s a little more to him, but by the time he takes the San Pedro cactus, his personality radically changes and he becomes a little bit more conscious of how he is behaving.
While it is fun to watch Michael Cera be as obnoxious as possible, it happens a bit too frequently and there’s very little time to grasp onto him as a decent individual. So when the San Pedro cactus drug is consumed and he starts becoming somewhat likable, it’s a little too late for me to care. Of course, the entire film is spent with him anticipating a fabled hallucinogen, and so when he finally has said drug it is understandable that his personality will change, but there are so many moments when he could have at least been somewhat sincere so that his change by the end of the film does not feel as radical. That really is my main gripe with the film, as it does not earn its ending, despite being a very small character-driven drama that should have been able to do so. Cera’s character ultimately serves as an attack against American youth, and I think in that sense it is well-done, but as a character arc it feels unearned.
Meanwhile, everyone else in the film is much more laid back, including the titular character, Crystal Fairy. Her calm demeanor and free-flowing spirit agitate Jamie because it steals the spotlight off of him, but it also adds to a character who is clearly harboring some dark secret which has led her to act the way she does. Hoffman’s performance is fantastic and very convincing, plus she seems extremely comfortable being the odd one of the bunch, willing to go that extra mile to solidify her weirdness. Her arc is much more satisfying and earned, but it lends heavily from the fact that it explains why she does what she does. The three Chilean siblings (Juan Andres Silva, Jose Miguel Silva, and Agustin Silva) behave much more calmly and are merely there to react to the peeved Jamie and spirited Crystal Fairy. They end up being critics of the American youth which Cera’s character represents, mentioning how much better their culture is (though in a much more subtle way) and still acting as the median between Crystal Fairy and Jamie’s two opposing personalities.
The most impressive element of Crystal Fairy though, is how it portrays the moments when Jamie and the rest of the gang are finally able to cast aside their worries and enjoy the effects of the San Pedro cactus. Using very minimal effects instead of going completely gaudy with hallucinogenic possibilities, the atmosphere created is somber and slightly claustrophobic. It feels like something terrible could go wrong at any moment, but there’s a sense of carelessness involved which makes the experience feel even more risky. For it being the moment that is built-up from the very beginning of the film, Silva and cinematographer Cristian Petit-Laurent are able to capture the mood perfectly and make that point of the film feel like a climax despite the fact that it is just a group of people who are really high.
Crystal Fairy is small both in scale and budget, but it manages to capture the attitudes of a generation. Unfortunately, that element of the film makes for Jamie’s character arc to feel unearned and rather jarring. Had there been more seeds planted in the script that there was more to Cera’s character than being a complete jerk, then maybe the end of Jamie’s arc would have been slightly more rewarding. Where his character falters, other characters prevail, and though Crystal Fairy feels pretty trivial throughout most of its length, the final act brings closure and a reward to those who could ignore its meandering narrative. The performances are all great, and the conclusive drug trip redeems a lot of the problems that I had throughout the film, but there are so many moments when the small amount of prep time for this movie shows itself as a hindrance.