Watching Crystal Fairy was the best time I’ve had in the movies in a while. And I don’t mean that in the sense of a rip roaring, hilarity filled time: I mean that when I left the theatre, I just felt good — the world outside appeared new and interesting all over again. From whence comes such a simple but pleasant feeling? Oh right, from well-made films, from an expertly told story. All this summer, it seems like I’ve been subjected to overly-bloated two and a half hour long monsters, for which no one was interested in taking the time to consider that a film can a be a crafted narrative rather than a tool of audiovisual bludgeoning.
Crystal Fairy is a sweetly mellow hour and a half of well-paced plotting, poignant relational moments, and killer scenery. Like a finely crafted short story, the film gives us just enough to look at, think about, and puzzle over. While it seems as if some backstories or details are omitted from this picture of a small group of people over a several day period, the mystery is pleasant rather than grating, as the story revolves around a convincingly-living core.
The film brings together two still-kicking child actors, Michael Cera and Gabby Hoffman. Cera plays Jamie, in a new twist on the insecure man-baby role in which we are so used to seeing him, and Hoffman plays the eponymous Crystal Fairy, a sixties throwback with Frida Kahlo eyebrows who regularly speaks of chakras and wants everybody to put magic rocks in their beers. These two fun house mirror images are American travellers in Chile, in a group of three gregarious and attractive native brothers (played by the writer-director Sebastian Silva and his real life brothers) who set out on a road trip to drink the hallucinogenic juice of the San Pedro cactus and trip by the beach.
It’s clear from the beginning of the film that Jamie hails from that tribe of smart, awkward young men who are very into drugs not just because they like getting high, but because it provides a desperately needed refuge from having to interact with the world as their normal selves. Crystal Fairy is his doppelganger, a hippy who is herself clearly trying very hard to live as her self appointed character. The point of their twinning is fairly obvious, but the movie is shot so sensitively as to allow us to simply savor the points of overlap in their characters, with their distinct-but-similar moments of awkwardness, isolation, and embarrassment that occur between the cracks of the forced camaraderie of those travelling together.
Early in the film, the camera first spies on Jamie, after being full of false bravado in front of his Chilean hosts, walking off with a cup of coffee into the desert scenery, his façade cracking as he is suddenly a weak-chinned middle-schooler who is ready to go home. Later we see Crystal Fairy, who has previously warned the boys about the perils of artificial sugars, furtively chugging from a left-over bottle of soda and looking utterly exhausted as the boys hurry her along into the jeep. Truly, the pleasure of this film is to be found in a series of moments that are masterfully selected and ordered, well acted, and beautifully shot — it’s a great little trip that’s honest and fun, if not utterly earth-shaking.