Saturday, August 10, 2013

Like: Crystal Fairy (& The Magical Cactus)

Leave it to Michael Cera to make cocaine usage look somehow innocent. As the exploratory inverse of his douchebag character from This is the End, in Crystal Fairy Cera plays Jamie, a wandering young American drifting through Chile in search of the ultimate trip, or, some sort of intangible, accidental answer.  He's exactly the type of guy who disappears for some section of his 20's to backpack idly towards adventure, an ugly American recognizable by his inability to speak the language, his casual interest in accumulating odd experiences, and the tourist's enthusiasm for restless, crude, party-centric behavior.  Jamie is exactly that guy you know on Facebook who resurfaces once a month or so to post a cryptic picture of himself on the edge of the world, drifting. He's a bit awful and immature, jerky and entitled in his actions and speech. Yet, for all his self-centered stupidity, his touristy hang outs with drag queen hookers, copious drug usage, and weird seedy secrets, Crystal Fairy is somehow a gentle vacation movie.  It's a light, meandering summer indie without much movement, but with a rather pleasing depth.
The film follows Jamie on his empty quest to track down a San Pedro cactus and indulge in mescaline tea. It's precisely the sort of moronic bucket list item a middle class suburban American would dream up, and he's humored by his Chilean 'friends' (the directors brothers, Agustin, Juan Andres, and Jose Miguel Silva).  They volunteer to drive him north in the name of his experience, and before they can Jamie invites a curious hippie-chick calling herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) along for the ride.  Crystal, too, is precisely sketched. She's admirably comfortable in her body to the point of making others anxious. In the nude, with only her jangly bracelets and Kahlo-like eyebrows, she drops kerchief wrapped healing crystals in the beers of her new brothers, asking them to imbibe their essence and open their world to a sort of self-discovery she's clearly willing onto herself. Jamie and Crystal are both products of their own fantasy creation, trying-too-hard figments forced on this journey by their own lack of personal understanding, and the joke is on them.  Chilean director Sebastian Silva rather lovingly shows us how foolish each character is in their quest, but does so with the understanding that for them personally, it may not matter.  Cera is surprisingly subtle here, funny in an understated way and comfortably unlikable, but it's ultimately Hoffmann's movie.  As the title character, Hoffmann gives a bold performance as an occasionally irritating but ultimately sympathetic lost soul. After years off the radar, she's one to look out for.

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