Film Review: Crystal Fairy

Very sloppy drama about a young American drug tourist in Chile determined to find a mescaline-rich cactus in the country’s remote north offers nothing beyond beach and desert scenery and plenty of totally gratuitous Gaby Hoffmann nudity.

Will the real Sebastián Silva please stand up? A few years back, he surprised with the richly entertaining and insightful The Maid, about the hopes and plight of a devoted servant working for a prosperous and considerate Chilean family. With Crystal Fairy comes a Cimino-size slump: an inchoate stab at something cinematic that amounts to a (seemingly) highly improvised tale of American loser Jamie (Michael Cera) and a van-full of hangers-on, most notably the eponymous Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), driving far north to find mescaline-rich cactus and a beach on which to enjoy it.

Jamie is first met partying hard, doing drugs, boozing. The scene is noisy, messy, downright ugly. Overlapping dialogue that is only occasionally understandable, camerawork that swings and sways ad nauseam, and a double shot of a filthy toilet appropriately set the scene, with much to follow. The editing throughout—jumpy, jerky, jagged—does conform to the drug theme.

At this urban bash from hell, Jamie meets Crystal, a hippie airhead from another era who becomes clingy. But Jamie has and will only have one thing on his mind: drinking that cactus juice that will take him on a psychedelic journey.

Crystal first worms her way into the pad where Jamie has crashed, then into the van that will take the group north to find the San Pedro cactus. The journey is uneventful until Jamie breaks into an elderly woman’s garden and steals a chunk of San Pedro. With their prize, the gang then head for the beach, pitch tents and begin the real work of getting to the mescaline.

For unknown reasons (except for Hoffmann’s lineage—her mother is former Warhol star Viva), Crystal parades around nude for long intervals. But neither Jamie nor his cohorts have any interest. In fact, Crystal Fairy offers no romance, no humor, no wit, no insights, no plot and is as empty as its characters. (Well, Jamie does mumble about some interest in phenomenology and Crystal expresses concern that humans won’t free themselves from their egos.)

Yes, Michael Cera and the film recently got plugged by New York Times’ media maven David Carr, so curiosity is piqued. But clues suggest that the film was thrown together in nanoseconds and with no money: “Silva” is the last name of the only supporting cast members, and a much bigger film that Silva had planned for Cera, already in Chile and staying with the Silvas, was delayed.

Beyond wondering how the Maid filmmaker could come up with this one, Crystal Fairy also piques curiosity about how Robert Redford, if he were to catch this film, might feel about the Sundance label on it.