Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva
Written by: Sebastián Silva
Directed by: Sebastián Silva
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English, Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 07/19/2013

Crystal Fairy (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cactus Power

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I love it when movies kind of happen out of nowhere. Sebastian Silva's Crystal Fairy occurred when Silva and actor Michael Cera went to Chile to make another movie, Magic Magic, and funding fell through. (Magic Magic was eventually made and showed at this year's Cannes Film Festival.) So Silva recalled a story from his past that he wanted to tell, re-cast Cera, and called up former child actress Gaby Hoffman to help out. They went to work and shot the entire movie in 12 or 13 days.

So Crystal Fairy feels like a vacation movie, a road movie that's relaxing and observant and with a laid-back rhythm. Yet it's also a complex character study that challenges the usual standards of likeability: its two American characters can be supremely annoying before you get to know them.

Cera plays Jamie, an American traveling through South America with a trio of local brothers (played by Silva's real-life brothers). His quest is to find the fabled San Pedro cactus, go to the beach, prepare it, and drink the resulting juice, which contains mescaline and provides a unique kind of drug trip. Jamie's obsession becomes rather bothersome to his companions, who wonder why he can't just relax and enjoy life.

Into this situation comes Crystal Fairy (Hoffman), an American female with long, dark ringlets of hair, unshaved armpits, and a general granola attitude. While high on various drugs, Jamie speaks to her at a party and invites her to join them on their quest, which she happily accepts, much to Jamie's next-morning horror. At first Crystal Fairy is the butt of jokes, but soon her flow-of-life rhythms come to jibe with the Silva brothers more closely than Jamie's anxiety-ridden cactus-quest does.

Eventually our characters make it to the beach, and they embark upon the long cooking process. One brother does not wish to take the drug, and Crystal Fairy helps him out. Jamie has a panic attack, and the film follows him, muffling the sound and emphasizing his rising heart rate. Crystal Fairy goes for a walk by herself and gets lost. The brothers play soccer. Jamie reflects.

In his career, after early successes on TV's "Arrested Development" and in Juno and Superbad, Cera quickly ran into a dead end with his boyish, high-pitched, and non-threatening characters. He has now attempted to reinvent his image with a fearless, devil-may-care character (also glimpsed in This Is the End), which is both shocking and appealing. Here he is with a terrible, shaggy haircut, and an open attitude about wearing an unflattering bathing suit or appearing like a jerk. Let's hope it continues to work for him. Likewise, Hoffman's earthy, naked performance reinvents her for adult roles (she was perhaps best known for her roles as a little girl in Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck).

Silva captures all this with a very simple, relaxed, sunny style. In its way, it has the same open-air, road-movie feel of Alfonso Cuaron's Y tu mamá también, but with very different results. It's not particularly profound, but it's a mini-journey that results in small life lessons and minor memories that can subtly settle in your transom.

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