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Film Review: Road Tripping with 'Crystal Fairy'

The ugly American Michael Cera in 'Crystal Fairy.' (Photo: Sofía Subercaseaux. Courtesy Sundance Selects.)
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This seems to be the summer of Michael Cera playing against type—or growing into more mature roles. Gone are the adork-able roles in Juno or Superbad. Last month, he played a coke- and sex-obsessed version of himself in the star-studded This is the End. In Crystal Fairy, an IFC Film that opened in LA, other select cities and on VOD Friday, Cera plays Jamie, a self-absorbed a-hole—and he plays the character brilliantly.

Directed by Sebastián Silva, the film ostensibly is a road trip-to-drug trip film in which ex-pat Jamie heads through the Chilean desert to the sea with three brothers Champa (Juan Andrés Silva), Lel (José Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Agustín Silva) to search for, and then ingest, the San Pedro cactus, which supposedly has hallucinogenic properties.

The night before they leave, Jamie and Champa are at a party in which Jamie drinks too much and snorts a lot of coke, critiquing the white-powder wares like a boorish wine critic. Under the influence, he invites a free-spirited hippie chick named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) to join them on the journey. He gives her his number, barely remembering when she calls the next day to take him up on the offer. Jamie’s ready to ditch her, but the brothers (the real-life brothers of director Silva) are too nice to abandon her.

Crystal Fairy charms the brothers with her carefree and live-and-let-live attitude. Her crystals and new agey beliefs have no effect on Jamie, though, who’s all about the destination—and not about enjoying the journey. This puts him at direct odds with Crystal Fairy’s lifestyle. As the road trip unfolds, these two expats learn a little more about themselves.

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Cera is great as a passive aggressive jerk who has no problem putting himself before all else. In one telling scene in the car in which Jamie’s riding shotgun, one of the brothers asks him to move the seat up since it’s a tight fit in the back. Jamie would rather not—instead choosing to keep himself more comfortable. In other scene, he calls Crystal Fairy “Crystal Hairy,” making fun of her choice to not shave...anywhere.

Crystal Fairy was shot in 12 days as Silva and Cera were waiting for financing to come through on their other indie film Magic, Magic (on VOD August 6th), also shot in Chile. The cast improvised off an outlined script by Silva, who based the film on a similar road trip he’d made years earlier. The San Pedro drug scenes are refreshingly not the cliched, whacked-out ones that you see in most films, which keeps Crystal Fairy grounded in reality. But we’re not sure why this film is being billed as a comedy, as we found ourselves more irritated with Cera’s behavior than laughing at it. Crystal Fairy feels exactly as a road trip usually does—a mix of good times and rising emotions.

The cast plays off each other amazingly. The brothers come off naturally—as the empathetic nice guys who balance out Cera’s ugly American. Hoffman, who was a kid actor in a number of films like Uncle Buck and Field of Dreams, quit acting for awhile. Her return in this film introduces her talents to a whole new generation. We’ve met people like her Crystal Fairy: Someone so uninhibited about her body that she can walk around naked among guys she’s just met and someone who (supposedly) doesn’t care about what the world thinks. (We thought we could smell the patchouli emanating from the screen.)

While on the surface Jamie and Crystal Fairy seem worlds apart, they’re more alike than they’d like to admit. They’re both stubborn and willful about their worldviews and both have a lot of growing up to do. We were glad to ride along on this small part of their journey.

Crystal Fairy is playing exclusively at the Nuart Theatre.