' ' Cinema Romantico: Crystal Fairy

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crystal Fairy

If you are not a Michael Cera fan going in, "Crystal Fairy" is unlikely to turn the tide. This is not to suggest that Cera is playing another in his long line of herky-jerky, romantically-confused teenage hipster doofuses. His character in the low-budget, shot-on-the-fly "Crystal Fairy" is, however, by far the single most irritating character he has yet to portray. He is irritating by design, but that does not necessarily make it any easier to foster a Cera Conversion. Ultimately what might win you to his side is the way in which he nobly and subtly cedes what seems to be his very own film to his wholly committed female co-star.

Cera is Jamie, a prattling, self-absorbed American living in Chile on a quest consisting of nothing much more than getting high and having a good time doing it. Exactly how he funds this quest is never addressed but then his self-absorption probably precludes him from needing to explain himself. He oversleeps when his friend needs him to be up early and later gets peeved when others won't hurry up and keep to his own schedule. He wants what he wants, he wants it now, and human decency, by God, will not stop him. Nor make him shut up.

His latest psychedelic crusade involves the fabled San Pedro cactus whose juice can be drunk as a means to ingest mescaline. He recruits his pal and roommate Champa (Juan Andrés Silva) as well as Champa's two brothers to locate one of these cacti and partake in its hallucinogenic riches. Silva is, in fact, the brother of the film's writer and director, Sebastián Silva, and IMDB indicates "Crystal Fairy" is his lone credit any of kind. This suggests he may have nabbed the role because of genes. Nevertheless, he does a strongly understated job of portraying someone who has spent enough time with the motormouth Jamie to understand how best to deal with him and block him out while still consistently finding himself annoyed and worn down.

He finds himself even more annoyed when Jamie becomes convinced their entire operation will fall apart on account of the unexpected presence of the title character, Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Never mind that Jamie, in the midst of a cocaine fit, is the one who invited her and gave her his phone number. That was yesterday. This is today, and today Jamie doesn't want her here.

Crystal Fairy seeks to spread peace and love wherever she goes and probably starred in Vassar's production of "Hair." As self-absorbed as Jamie is, she is open to the karma of the universe, shedding all her clothes not in a moment of "look at me!" vanity but because nakedness likely brings woman closer to her truest self. The first time we (and Jamie) meet her is at a house party where she is unashamedly dancing on her own.

The point-counterpoint is clear - a tightly wound American drug freak and go-with-the-flow American free thinker on the cusp of doing mescaline together. Will his barbarous kvetching turn her against them? Will she lead this jaded addict into the mystic?

Gaby Hoffmann has had one of the more interesting careers in Hollywood. A child actress in stalwarts such as "Field of Dreams" and "Sleepless In Seattle", she lived for a time in the infamous Chelsea Hotel and appeared primed for a transition into adult stardom. That never really happened, and that sorta seemed to be her own choice. Instead she went to college to earn a degree in literature, worked on the stage in New York and per Taffy Brodesser-Akner's piece for The New York Times Magazine she interned for a chef in Italy and lived in a trailer in the Catskills. To me that signals a welcome comfort in her own skin, and no doubt influenced her exotic, enchanting work as this aptly named Crystal Fairy.

The film, smartly, saves its most crucial insight and ultimate Reveal (though not a Reveal in the traditional sense) for damn near the very end. It belongs not to Jamie but to Crystal Fairy, and when she offers it around a beach campfire Hoffmann's voice momentarily loses the whimsy it has possessed throughout. It shifts Crystal Fairy the person and "Crystal Fairy" the film into something else.

Maybe Crystal Fairy isn't as self-possessed as we thought, maybe Jamie isn't as much of a jackass as we suspected, and maybe we turn to narcotics not to reach metaphysical plains but to forget the reality all around us.

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