Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Crystal Fairy

Chilean director Sebastián Silva ("The Maid") brings us a hallucinogenic road comedy that's slight and nearly formless but rings true and contains the funniest line of any movie yet this year.
It bears the title "Crystal Fairy" (shortened from "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus," presumably in the hope that somebody somewhere might pay to see it), and it stars Michael Cera as Jamie, a rich young gringo drug connoisseur traveling through Chile in a quest for intense psychotropic experiences. High on blow at a party in the city the night before setting out across the Atacama to procure some of the legendary San Pedro cactus, he gives his phone number to a hippie-dippy fellow American who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) and seems not to notice, while dancing, that her expansive movements are taking up about half of the room.

Jamie, his amigo Champa (the director's brother Juan Andrés), and Champa's brothers Lel and Pilo (still more Silva boys, Agustín and José Miguel), hit the road the next morning. After a while, Jamie's cellphone goes off. It's Crystal Fairy, asking him to meet her at the plaza in the next town they come to. She's accepting his invitation to join their traveling party, an offer Jamie has no recollection of making and no desire to keep. When they find her - rescue her, actually, from a group of women hitting her and claiming she owes them money she tried to repay with drawings - Jamie instantly regrets ever meeting her. He and Champa go out to buy beer, and play a game of "Would you rather…?" (Example: "Would you rather an endless stream of shit comes out of your ear for the rest of your life, or a midget follows you around forever just watching everything you do?")

When Jamie offers Champa two such choices, one involving Crystal Fairy, I went down like I'd been shot. When he added, "Think about it carefully. Give each one full consideration," I was inconsolable. I couldn't stop laughing for the next five minutes, while a few people joined me and the rest of the audience shot us dirty looks. The line is so unexpected and hilariously horrible to contemplate, it's just devastating.

They finally arrive at the town famous for the San Pedro cactus, but the owners of the few they find aren't selling. Jamie's incredulous ("Don't they understand we're offering them money?") and ends up cutting a large chunk off one woman's cactus while Crystal Fairy and the others commune with her in her home. A few hours later, they arrive at a small town, where they set up camp on the beach. Jamie removes the thorns from the cactus, slices it, mashes and heats the leaves, and distills the broth into a clear liquid that, when drunk, will blow their minds. I like, though, that Silva doesn't turn the movie into a through-their-eyes mescaline trip. There are no hallucinated images here, no imagined bogeymen. Rather, everyone simply partakes, and waits. Champa and his brothers play soccer in the sand. Jamie and Crystal Fairy go off in separate directions by themselves.

This is actually Cera's best performance - his truest and fullest. Jamie has a lot of privilege and a powerful sense of entitlement, but believes he knows what he wants and may have space in his heart for real kindness. As Crystal Fairy, Hoffmann is a force of nature. I especially treasured the quiet moments where she lets us know she's in on the joke. Her reaction, say, when she traipses around their apartment naked and Jamie calls her "Crystal Hairy." Or the way she pulls Pilo aside when she realizes he doesn't want to take the intoxicant, pouring his out while making it sound like he's drinking it down. Or the answer she gives when a black whale researcher gives her a lift back to the beach - she's gotten a little lost, and is once again naked - and asks her name.

"Crystal Fairy" is a movie that's easy to pooh-pooh but comes from a place of real pain and empathy and hope. And, of course, there's that great line.

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