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Hiding behind masks that cover their vulnerability, two Americans in
Chile, Jamie (Michael Cera) and Crystal Fairy, a young free-spirited
woman (Gaby Hoffmann), spar off against each other in Chilean filmmaker
Sebastián Silva's psychedelic comedy Crystal Fairy. The film was
nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and won the Directing Award for
World Cinema at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Jamie's act is one of
controlling, overly-aggressive behavior but not quite the "Ugly
American," while Crystal's is the opposite but equally phony, a
caricature of a "hippie" filled with love for everyone who spouts
clichés about chakras and mother earth, walks around her hotel room
naked, engages in healing rituals, and chides the others for eating
It's hard to tell if the director is using her persona as a means of ridiculing these ideas or just showing how inauthentic she is. In any event, Crystal and Jamie's way of being, while it fills a need for them, has costs in sacrificing who they really are. On the surface, the film is a road trip to find a psychedelic substance in the San Pedro cactus plant which, when boiled for twelve hours and ingested, has the properties of mescaline (it has been said that the actors used mescaline while shooting the film). In essence, however, the film is not really about mescaline but about releasing rigid patterns of behavior and discovering new ways of interacting that are more fulfilling.
The film begins at a party where Silva's hand-held camera-work and improvised conversation is established. On a cocaine high, the caustic Jamie invites a partygoer, a girl who calls herself Crystal Fairy to accompany him and his friends on a quest to repeat the spiritual high described in Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception. When Crystal takes him up on the offer the next day (which he has forgotten that he even made), he is dismayed by her annoying behavior, even though his Chilean friends, Champa (Juan Andres Silva) and his two brothers Lel (Jose Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Augustin Silva), seem more tolerant, perhaps because at least one does not understand English. Their trip to the ocean to locate and purchase a piece of the San Pedro cactus from reluctant residents is one of the comic highlights of the film, even though Jamie has to eventually use surreptitious means to acquire it.
Crystal Fairy ends up in a good place even though it is more than a little irritating in getting there. During the trip, Jamie and Crystal talk to each other, but at cross purposes. The results are unpredictable but, suffice it to say, their longing for a spiritual experience does not take the form that Huxley described. Michael Cera's role is out of character from the lovable, nerdy self he has played in earlier movies, but he is terrific in this film, totally natural and very real, as is Hoffmann in her role, both continuing to reveal a new dimension to their character. Ultimately, the group's sharing about their fears and their discovery of how their act no longer serves their purpose in life is more open and honest than anything I've seen in films recently and stays in the memory.
A hit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Crystal Fairy stars Michael
Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as an uptight American
drug-partaking lout backpacking parts of Chile with three friends (whom
are native Chileans) in search of a rare cactus -- the San Pedro -- in
hopes of experiencing its hallucinogenic effects on a northern beach.
At a random party before their trek is set to begin, a coked-out Jamie (Cera) spontaneously invites another American party-er to partake with them. She (Gaby Hoffman - remember the little girl from Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle?) is a hairy (uh ... yep) free-spirit who channels the vibes of nature and goes by the name Crystal Fairy.
After their trip begins (it is a few hundred miles of a drive from the city to the beach), Jamie and Crystal discover that they have conflicting personalities and they clash many times before their group even comes across the cactus to imbibe as he is boorish and insensitive and she is unique and a deep-thinker. Jamie becomes increasingly annoyed with Crystal while his three Chilean friends tolerate her much better and actually respect her point of view and sensibility. Jamie is oftentimes unaware of his rude-ness but he is written well and believably portrays an American tourist expecting concessions and advantages. When they actually find a cactus (one she has spotted), Jamie and Crystal Fairy even disagree as to how to obtain it because Jamie likes things being his way and he is a stressful worry-wart.
While this portion of the journey is complicated, the real "adventure" begins on the beach when they make their drinkable concoction. The film becomes one about personal and inner understanding, acceptance and compassion. The first half comes across as rather annoying as Jamie's character is very self-centered and not too-likable and while I believed the drug-induced portion of the film would be the hardest part to endure ... I was wrong as this is when the true characters of each are actually revealed.
As for the film's acting: Cera fans know what to expect from him and he plays another slight variation of manic that he's shown audiences before. His character is high-strung and abrasive and some might want to reach through their screens and punch him a time or two; but this is a testament to Cera's acting talent. He plays his character very well. Hoffman hasn't been on many movie screens lately and it is nice seeing her play the titular (ahem) character. She bares more than just her soul in a few scenes ... and her final admission around a late-night campfire is moving and emotional. Welcome back to the big screen Gaby! This is a good little, independent film ... but it isn't one for everybody. It takes some patience and those who dislike grainy picture and plot-lite story lines won't appreciate or enjoy this. It is only those patient enough to make it to the end of this film and willing to take the entire trip who will be rewarded with the film's high.
I am late seeing this flick and I must disagree with a few other
reviewers and their take on this very simple yet complex movie.
Once again Sebastián Silva is offering up questions on youth and how youth sees the world around them. Jamie is obviously a self centered person with a limited experience in communicating with others (sort of like the US) (as Jamie is an American) and we can see this in his 'attitude' throughout the story. The other three boys have had to share with others and they try to make the best of their trip to the beach. Jamie, on the other hand insist they do it as planed.
Enter Crystal Fairy into this mix and you already have an altered perception of exactly what they want to do - she is like the drug reduced from the cactus later in the story (she has an altered view of reality). She wants to share everything the three other boys don't seem to mind. Jamie can't tolerate it - he wants none of her.
Crystal mothers them, she wants to know them, the boys are like children to her - yet she is very childlike herself. Jamie suddenly wants to be friends with her but only when he's 'high', after he comes down he's back to his original self. Crystal leaves quietly, Jamie sees her leave and calls her name, Crystal disappears behind a rock.
What is Silva showing us here? Crystal is the personality of many different people, she's giving, caring, willing to accept life on her own and take risks - and being alone isn't easy, she is alone throughout the movie and Jamie thinks she's a phony. Jamie cannot see that he is the phony because in the end Crystal is what Jamie was seeking in the brewed Cactus they drink and even when high he could not accept it.
Michael Cera is Jamie, an American traveler in Chile who plans a road
trip with his friends to indulge in a legendary hallucinogen, the San
Pedro cactus. While drunk at a party, Jamie invites an eccentric,
radical spirit named Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffmann. When
Jamie's insensitive, controlling, impatient, selfish nature is revealed
it conflicts with Crystal Fairy, making what was suppose to be a
care-free adventure into an uncomfortable journey for everyone.
Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffmann are both very brave for taking on these characters, who are in perfect contrast with one another. The result is excellent performances of well-written characters. Unfortunately the film is going to attract audiences looking for a drug-fueled adventure in the vein of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, not a character-driven comedy lacking any real laugh-out-loud moments. The film is played almost too serious to be any fun, though there is depth.
Writer/director Sebastián Silva proved his powers as a serious filmmaker with Magic Magic, which also starred Cera and was released earlier this year. Other than having Cera in lead roles, the only thing the two films share in common is an abrupt ending that will either leave you haunted or irritated. While Magic Magic is an effective psychological horror film, Crystal Fairy is a thought-provoking character study poorly marketed as an adventure comedy.
Crystal Fairy and The Magical Cactus isn't a bad film but it does fail as a comedy. As for the adventure, the credits begin to roll too soon after the film gets interesting. This will annoy more than it will amuse or enlighten.
This is my opinion. I think this movie is incredibly deep but in a
light kind of way, in a way that the viewer learns from it what applies
and relevant for him. I think it's honest, a rare thing in movies these
days. No clichés, no bullshit. I think it makes you think, makes you
feel. It makes you connect with the characters, almost as if you are
traveling with them. And what I liked most about this movie is the
"twist", when who you think is the main character turns out to be just
the scenery for the real deal.
I recommend this a lot to people who are done with the Hollywood industry, who are looking for something real and worth watching, and especially to people who are about to travel, especially to travel alone. I think in some way you will learn a lot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You most likely don't know this, but in Canada we can just walk into a store, and buy the cactus already dried, and ready to use, and it costs very little. These characters are mostly jerks, and for the most part it is really hard to root for them on this quest, even if I have been on several similar. This movie has no magic, but there is a long drive, and a lot talking and trying to get high. Michael Cera's Jamie is a winy troubled little jerk, and Gaby Hoffmann as the Chrystal Fairy herself is just a complete flake, but that is what they are supposed to be so as far as the acting in this movie it is all really good, it is just hard to watch good acting no matter how good when you are watching such unacceptable people. I really did not Enjoy this movie, there are parts that deserve praise, but it was just such torture watching these characters that I do not recommend this unless you just love art films, and have your own Cactus questing memories you want to relive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Crystal Fairy" is a road trip taken by two of the ugliest Americans to
ever trod a cinematic foreign country. Their goal: Mescaline and
spiritual discovery or closer to the truth, themselves.
Comedy star Michael Cera, Jamie, showcases trademark Allenesque neuroses, whining and flat affect in a role based on the experiences of Director Sebastián Silva. The reversal is Silva was a native while Cera is an interloper of whom it is asked, "Did you travel to (beautiful) Chile just for the San Pedro (the cactus harvested for Mescaline)?" The answer is a resounding yes, and there is nothing he won't do to get it, including stealing cactus from a lonely, mentally challenged woman.
Gaby Hoffman, Crystal Fairy, is a pontificating Sixties throwback who wanders about in the nude and chastises people about their food choices (while drinking Coke). She's also an unwanted (by Cera) barnacle clinging to the trip which includes three native brothers. (The scenes of the brothers trying to look like they're not gawking at the nude Hoffman in a hotel room are hilarious.)
Cera's performance is admirable but his usual one-note. Hoffman easily outshines him.
The improvised dialogue adds immediacy and verisimilitude while masking the bitter subtext; Neo-Colonialism and Financial Imperialism. Like "Tony Manero" (a film crediting thanks to Silva), United States' influence and interference lightly greases this story's wheels.
Unlike "Tony Manero," "Crystal Fairy" adds character arcs: Cera departs his obnoxious head to find self-acceptance and a heart recognizing Fairy's inner beauty; Fairy discovers her healing powers cannot reanimate a dead animal and the world just might not end in 2012. She also finds acceptance of the sexual abuse leading her to a life as a strap-on wearing Dominatrix.
The Chilean brothers are antithetical to the Gringos. Their portrayals are a given as they're natives of the country of the film's origin, but their counterpoint makes Cera and Hoffman all the more ridiculous.
To say "Crystal Fairy" is a comedy (stoner or otherwise), twisted love story or angry gringo-invective is to sell the film short. This is a sweet, abstract film with multiple layers and a few very fine moments. The film plants itself in the psyche much like Mescaline. Giving in to the film's charms results in a feeling you actually tripped along.
Multiple viewings may help in understanding off-the-cuff lines delivered sotto voce. And the abrupt, unsatisfying ending is a shortcoming. There is a movement to cut to black and end films with ambiguity. To feed post-viewing conversation and debate? Whether lazy, uninspired, unmotivated or ill-advised, an ambiguous ending cheats the audience. ("The Birds" notwithstanding.)
A welcome respite to noisy, tent-pole, superhero entertainment, joining this troupe on the road is definitely worth the ninety minute trip straight or high.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chilean writer/director Sebastián Silva was successful with his
auspicious 2009 debut, 'The Maid'. But here, with his sophomore effort,
Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, he proffers up a real vanity
project, marked by an air of unmistakable self-indulgence.
Joining him in this slight affair is Michael Cera, whose star power obviously got the film bankrolled. Cera plays Jamie, an obnoxious version of himself. He finds himself at a party with a friend, Champa, in Santiago, Chile, where he scores some cocaine and boasts about his knowledge of Aldous Huxley's 'Doors of Perception'. He soon runs into Crystal Fairy, a hippie, earth-mother type, who isn't shy about disrobing in later scenes and showing off her hairy armpits. Jaime insults Crystal about her dancing abilities and jokingly mentions that he and his friend (along with his two brothers) will be taking a three hour trip to score some San Pedro cacti and its by-product: pure mescaline; it's mainly Jaime's plan, who intends to imbibe the psychedelic substance, at the beaches of the Atacama desert.
Much to Jaime's chagrin, while driving to the town up north where they'll be looking for the cactus, Crystal calls and surprisingly informs Jaime that she'll be meeting him and the boys in town. Jaime ramps up his overbearing demeanor, as the group knocks on the doors of residents who have large stalks of San Pedro cacti, growing in their front yards. None of the residents seem to be interested in giving Jaime and his posse a piece so Jaime simply cuts off one and the group doesn't seem to be upset by his immoral actions.
When the group finally arrives at the seashore, Crystal goes off by herself, communing with nature and Jaime boils some cactus and gets high on the mescaline. I understand that Cera actually did get high during the filming but none of his dreamy 'trips' are illustrated visuallyhe merely parades around the beach, making an ass of himself, as he did before. Later, during a campfire, Crystal reveals that she was raped, after being led away from some kind of new age gathering she was attending. Crystal also reveals that she works as a dominatrix, which doesn't seem to perturb any of Jaime's pals. As for the Chilean group, they really have little to do throughout the film, except ensure that Jaime, doesn't get too out of hand.
Somewhere there's a solid, well-developed story here, but most of the lines are improvised and everything ends up rambling. Some judicious editing could have improved the story quite a bit, but Mr. Silva was probably having too much fun during the shooting of the film, to think about that. Silva has an ear for dialogue and certainly the Chilean landscape will keep your eyes glued to the screen. The aim here was obviously for comedy but unfortunately Cera's character is so unsympathetic, that we care little about any of this machinations, along with his Chilean compatriots, whom he took along for the ride.
People who have rated this movie just don't get it. The movie was one of those funny charming movies that you just snuggle up next to and become a part of. People who have rated this movie as awful seem to maybe not understand it, maybe those people should keep to their cheap comedy American pie movies instead of getting involved in something they don't understand. Michael Cera did his usual wonderful job, in a wonderful film. I hope you do watch it, it's worth it. And I think this is one of my new favorite movies, I just want to watch it over and over again. And I suggest the people who have hated on it should do so as well, see if you find the beauty of it this time. I probably sound like some kind of high hippie right now but I'm just a normal dude that knows a good movie when I see one :)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS has little to offer its viewers. The dialogue comes off as a documentary or a reality show (which, as I recently discovered, is because most of the film was not scripted, as the cast either improvised or was fed lines by the director right before takes), and there isn't much plot to the film. To put it simply, a group of friends in Chile search for the San Pedro cactus in order to cook it and drink it as a hallucinogenic drug, and once they finally find it, they camp out in the desert, cook it, drink it, and trip on it; that's all that there is to it. There are so many unnecessary scenes that do absolutely nothing to move the barely existent plot along, and the very little that this film accomplishes could have been accomplished in a half-hour short film. The characters have very little depth to them and are not compelling at all, and the film is just, to put it simply, incredibly boring. I was excited to see this film because I am a fan of Michael Cera, but I am so drastically disappointed, and if, like me, you are only interested in seeing this film because you are a Michael Cera fan, then waste your time with this pointless film if and only if you're that desperate to see him because otherwise, this probably won't be worth your time. It might have been a bit better if the whole script had actually been written, but the improvisation technique works for some productions and not for others; this film falls into the latter category, to say the least.
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