Michael Cera gets a bad rap for consistently playing the lovable awkward loser character. In Sebastian Silva's Crystal Fairy, he takes on a completely different character: the awkward loser that's also an unlikable dickhead. Michael Cera fans and detractors take note; he does a pretty damn good job of filling those shoes as well. Oh, and Silva's film is a remarkably honest and enjoyable film as well.
As its full title (at least according to the title cards) hints, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012 is the story of a psychedelic drug trip. More accurately, it's the story of a journey in pursuit of a psychedelic drug trip. Cera plays Jamie, an American living in Chile (why he's there is never revealed) who shares an apartment with an easy-going local named Champa played by Silva's brother Juan Andrés Silva. Jamie and Champa are planning a trip to a far off beach to eat San Pedro cactus with Champa's two brothers Pilo and Lel (also Silva's brothers Augustin and José Miguel Silva). Everything looks good for the guys' trip until Jamie gets too messed up at a party and invites an eccentric American named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) to join them on their adventure.
For as cool and laid back as Champa and his brothers are, Jamie is one uptight and controlling dude. He does his best to weasel out of his commitment to bring Crystal Fairy along. When she starts talking about magical pebbles and the Mayan Calendar, Jamie tries to shift the responsibility to the brothers by telling them he is cool with her but he understands if they want to ditch her. It's this passive aggressive behavior that creates the personality conflict at the center of the film. While Jamie and Crystal Fairy seem as different as two people can be, they are both Type-A personalities and their clash of wills juxtaposed with the easy going nature of the three brothers forms the backbone for the story's drama.
Silva's great accomplishment is his loving honesty that he uses to paint his characters. At first impression, Jamie is too big of a dick and Crystal Fairy too much of a weirdo to want to spend an entire movie with. But a funny thing happens on the way to the desert. About halfway through the movie, you realize how much you care about these characters, warts and all. This isn't the kind of story that hinges on dramatic plot points. It's enough to put these very realistic characters into a pretty imaginable situation and watch them grow.
Crystal Fairy is a tiny movie. Reportedly shot in only 12 days when Michael Cera was in Chile to shoot Silva's other Sundance film Magic Magic, the independent and improvisational nature of the film is a real testament to both Silva's skill as a filmmaker, and the talent of these five actors. It's a different side of Michael Cera (not to mention a very different, completely bare side of Gaby Hoffman), but if you are up for a bit of an adventure, it's easy to find this trip worth the journey.
Review originally published during the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. The film opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, July 12.