As Jamie, an American drug tourist desperately seeking a hallucinogenic cactus, Michael Cera pours kerosene on his wet blanket slacker persona. Whether complaining about the quality of free coke dispensed at a party, making cruel sport of Crystal Fairy’s (Gaby Hoffmann) free-form dance moves, or stealing a limb from a kind old lady’s prized plant, he’s a passive-aggressive dork supremo.
Sebastiàn Silva’s Crystal Fairy is the story of Jamie and his Chilean buddies’ trip to the beach to get high on carefully cooked cactus juice, a trip ruined – in Jamie’s eyes, anyway – by the fact that Crystal Fairy, the third-gen hippie dancer at the party who’s as obnoxious as he is, takes him up on his stoned offer to join the boys on the tripping trip. The two gringos compete mercilessly in the Ugly American sweepstakes, and the movie depicts a reckoning of sorts that takes place under the influence and beneath the stars.
Until it hits the beach, Crystal Fairy is a shambling character study, as loose-limbed and lost in itself as Crystal Fairy’s party dance. Silva’s camera is constantly mobile and tight on people’s backs and profiles, as though simply trying to keep up with an unfolding happening that isn’t quite sure what’s supposed to happen. But this gives us ample opportunity to observe Jamie in full-blown obnoxious flight, manipulating his supremely tolerant fellow travellers – the fraternal trio of Champa (Juan Andrés Silva), Lel (José Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Augustin Silva), the director’s real-life brothers – while growing increasingly frantic over the procuring of the magical plant, and demonstrating rising levels of petulance after Crystal Fairy, a bluntly daffy New Stone Ager, proves competitive in the look-at-me department.
When it gets where it’s going, a remote beach with strong enough sunshine to bleach the entire movie into a kind of UV-saturated haze, Silva’s movie slows down into a trancy reverie, depicting not only the ritualistic cooking of the San Pedro plant’s essential fluids, but the ways in which the slow influence of the hallucinogen bring everybody’s own essences to the fore: Jamie proves fidgety, paranoid, terrified of losing control and convinced he’s losing his mind, Champa a gentle apostle of the easy-does-it, Pilo a cautious non-participant, and Crystal Fairy a naked solo wanderer through the desert. (Happening upon a pile of pearl-white seashells, the now-naked neo-hippie arranges them to spell her name.) As much as the latter preaches the taking of the magic cactus as a kind of communal bonding ritual, it only becomes so after everybody has been split up and scattered like sand crabs on the surf. Terrified possibly for the first time in his life that he’s actually hurt someone’s feelings, Jamie embarks on a stoned search for the missing girl whose stark nakedness previously prompted him to mock her as “Crystal Hairy.”
Although its ultimate destination is a kind of accounting of personal crappiness to others, Silva’s movie is hardly a simple case of bad people getting stoned, seeing themselves and making good. It’s too incidental, digressive and focused on character minutiae for that, and is clearly far more convinced by Jamie and Crystal Fairy’s probably irredeemable shortcomings than it is by the possibility of any revelatory or fundamental change. In other words, much as old-school stoner mythology might cling to the notion that the ingestion of certain substances might make us see things with a clarity that changes everything – Jamie, in typically insufferable fashion, pushes his familiarity with Huxley’s The Doors of Perception on everyone – one doubts anything’s really changed here for any longer than it takes to come down and pack up.
A road movie as much in spirit as in form, Silva’s Crystal Fairy is naturally obliged to place more interest and emphasis on the journey than the destination. While this accounts for the tentative nature of the reconciliation reached, it also means the movie’s real heart is in what comes before, and in getting there, the movie, which rather sweetly evokes a less sexed-up Y tu Mama También, is consistently funny and fascinating. Never bothering to explain the increasingly urgent question of why these guys, who seem so supremely nice, are putting up with this toxic Yank dick, we are instead compelled to accept and observe, and it’s in the accumulating pile of sharply observed incidents – watch especially the gang’s attempts to buy cacti from reluctant and wary townsfolk – that the movie itself comes to cook. The doors of perception opened widest here may only be ours, but there’s more to see than first meets the eye. Or that Jamie, god bless his annoying soul, could ever dream of.