‘Crystal Fairy’ a lightweight vehicle for all-grown-up Michael Cera

crystal fairy posterCrystal Fairy

Directed by Sebastian Silva

Written by Sebastian Silva

Chile, 2013

Crystal Fairy is an aimless wisp of a movie, a lackadaisical road trip in which very little of substance happens, but intentionally so. Michael Cera, as the film’s snide, dismissive lead, does as much deliberate damage here to his previously squeaky-clean persona as he did in his raucous cameo in This is the End. The baby-faced George Michael Bluth is long gone, and in his place is a gawky, blustery type whose misplaced confidence is a hallmark of most American comic leads these days. Seeing as Crystal Fairy takes place entirely in Latin America, and the lead character’s American-ness constantly runs up against the more laid-back mentality of his more worldly friends, perhaps his presence is fitting. At some point, though, the relaxed tone turns Crystal Fairy into something too airy to be memorable.

Cera plays Jamie, a freewheeling American on vacation down South and happy to spend each waking hour either getting high on various foreign versions of marijuana and other drugs, or dealing with the subsequent hangovers. He and his friend Champa (Juan Andres Silva), and Champa’s two brothers (Jose Miguel Silva and Agustin Silva), have one major goal: to make their own mescaline via a homegrown recipe that requires a cactus as an ingredient, then get high on said mescaline at the beach. The plan gets thrown slightly out of wack with the addition of Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), an almost stereotypically free-spirited fellow American who takes Jamie up on his jokey, blasé invitation for her to join him on the trip and ends up taking control via her dominant hippie attitude, to Jamie’s distress.

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Though the film, written and directed by Sebastian Silva, is set in Latin America, and all but the characters played by Cera and Hoffmann aren’t from America, this feels very much like a drug-fueled travelogue from the point of view of the ugly American tourist stereotype. Both Jamie and Crystal Fairy are happy to engage with the foreign culture, yet they’re almost blissfully unaware of how they’re perceived by that culture. (Early on, Jamie and his friends have to essentially save Crystal Fairy from an impromptu beating in a public park after she tries to pay for something with a crude drawing, presuming that would equal payment instead of Chilean money.) And, strangely, what little plot appears in Crystal Fairy, surrounding Jamie’s growing distaste of Crystal Fairy and inability to voice it without sounding like an even bigger jerk than he already is, ends up emulating something like the mainstream family comedy What About Bob, where only one character is immune to the charms of a quirky interloper and all attempts to explain why only demonize the “normal” protagonist.

Hoffmann, once a staple of Hollywood movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Uncle Buck, and Volcano as the precocious, wise-beyond-her-years pre-teen girl, has definitely grown up, even more so than Cera. Crystal Fairy, despite having a hidden, unexpected past, has fully committed to being a 21st-century version of a hippie, down to calmly displaying her naked body after a shower to her male peers. Her blissful disregard for social mores—that scene culminates with Jamie finally speaking up, at first giggling awkwardly and then admitting his general discomfort—is, by the end of the film, meant to be more charming than it ends up feeling. Hoffmann’s quite good as the title character, it should be noted; the real problem is that Silva’s script is too slight to make a convincing argument that everyone else around this flighty young woman would be won to her side during a 100-minute movie. Cera, on the other hand, is adequately snarky, unable to come to terms with his brand of selfish irony clashing with Crystal Fairy’s happy dismissal of cynicism.

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Crystal Fairy (or, as the title appears in the film, not the marketing, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012) is as slight as films get, to the point where the third-act surprises are almost more shocking because they exist at all, not because they’re truly daring. Michael Cera continues his tireless efforts to separate himself from his earlier, more juvenile work, and though the material isn’t particularly weighty, he’s as at home playing a louche, addled American in Chile as he is at playing comically neutered and awkward leading men in Judd Apatow films. Crystal Fairy, in spite of Cera and Gaby Hoffmann working as hard as possible to imbue their characters and the world they inhabit with extensive life and detail, is too light, twee, and shiftless to stand out for more than a few seconds after the end credits roll. The last act cries out to be taken seriously, but the whole of Crystal Fairy amounts to a few grains of sand on the Chilean beach, blowing away with the slightest gust of wind.

— Josh Spiegel

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