Sebastián Silva’s English language feature “Crystal Fiary” [Full Title: Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, and 2012] is a character study of two American tourists in Chile with very different outlooks. I had seen only one other film from the director and was quite impressed by it (Nana), and was naturally curious to watch this, also because it’s co-produced by Pablo Larrain, another promising Chilean filmmaker.
Jamie (Michael Cera), an American tourist visiting Chile with the main purpose of getting stoned with mescaline cooked from a local cactus plant named San Pedro, attends a house party with Chilean friends Champa, Lel, and Pilo (played by director Silva’s own brothers – Juan Andrés, José Miguel and Agustín). He invites a young woman dancing wildly there, a fellow American named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann, the little girl from Field of Dreams and daughter of actress Viva – an Andy Warhol regular), to join them on a trip that he and his friends are about to undertake the following day, which is to find and procure the fabled cactus. Jamie regrets inviting her the next day and silently hopes that she had forgotten about his offer. But she doesn’t, and calls to inform him that she’s on her way to join them at the planned meeting point. Jamie suggests they ignore and leave her waiting, but Champa disagrees and they collect her on their way.
Boorish Jamie couldn’t be any more different from the free-spirited Crystal, and the film spends considerable runtime developing their respective characters admirably. While Jamie comes across as a complete prat – he is selfish, uptight, and insensitive with scant regard for others, Crystal Fairy is the colourfully eccentric, imposing and yet well-meaning new-age hippie type, carefree in both mind and body. She also takes pride in the new nickname they’d given her – Crystal Hairy, after casually walking naked on the boys after a shower. The three brothers are the normal ones among the group, bemused and entertained by their guests’ peculiarities for the most part, and occasionally telling off Jamie for his barely concealed animosity towards Crystal Fairy.
The final stage of the film is set on a beach, after they (Jamie) manage to steal a slice of cactus from a local woman’s garden. The hallucinogen is extracted by cooking the cactus, and all barring the youngest sibling partake the drug and have a trippy time. When Jamie gets nastier than usual with Crystal, she leaves the group and wanders off alone for a psychedelic adventure of her own, and momentarily also gets lost. It is her disappearance that’ll allow Jamie to reflect and realise how mean he’d been to her. A reconciliation and opening-up of sorts happens when they all reunite…
The film is an interesting character study of two contrasting individuals that many of us may have come across in our own experiences. The three brothers are nothing more than a reference point of ‘normality’ for the two protagonists. Well directed for a large part, my only problem with the film is the final few minutes, which was either unnecessary, or could have been executed differently – Jamie’s change of heart is unconvincing, and some of Crystal Fairy’s secret past needn’t have been dragged into the picture.
It is nevertheless very well performed by the two main actors. I have never seen Michael Cera’s work before, but he makes us truly hate his character here, not by merely acting cruel, but by letting his character believe in his own thoughts and actions – people like Jamie tend to believe that they’re nice and always on the right. Gaby Hoffmann on the other hand, is a total blast, completely becoming the bohemian chick that she must’ve been used to seeing while growing up in the Hotel Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. It is refreshing to see such talents like her still available for independent cinema in USA.
Apparently they even partook mescaline in the film for real, and the trippy sequences were them in their stoned state according to an interview in The New York Observer. In the article, she also confides in her naturally-hairy appearance (“working a 70’s vibe”, as an enchanting Hollywood star also recently admitted). In any case, this film certainly emanates a friendly vibe that can be enjoyed by anyone used to something other than present-day Hollywood, and is Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Gaby Hoffmann
Ms. Hoffmann appears nude in at least three scenes – two of which include full frontal nudity and are also fairly long (don’t see that often these days, do we!). The first of the two is also the funniest, when her character emerges after a shower to engage in conversation and drink, stark naked, with four gob-smacked guys in the room. The second is Crystal Fairy’s separate trippy self-discovery/adventure amidst rocks and scattered shells (and a dead rabbit that simply wouldn’t be revived 🙁 ). She later forgets where she left her clothes and walks back in the nude, until a passing archaeologist restores her modesty. That’s a weird chick having a weird trip alright! Incredibly sweet nevertheless..!