Michael Cera is a jerk in his new movie. And not the playing-against-type cartoon jerk he was in This Is The End or even the endearingly oblivious and cowardly semi-jerk at the center of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. In Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 (often shortened in publicity to just Crystal Fairy), Cera plays a self-involved gringo in Chile named Jamie. He's an ugly American, but not the standard-issue kind. He's a post-collegiate hipster variation, insensitive to the feelings of the people with whom he interacts and single-minded about getting what he wants. In this case, he wants the San Pedro cactus, which can be prepared to make mescaline. (He read about it in The Doors of Perception, a book he name-drops about a dozen times during the course of the movie.)
Jamie corrals a trio of good-natured local brothers (director Sebastián Silva's real brothers Juan Andrés, Agustín, and José Miguel) to road-trip with him up to the north of Chile and track down a cactus so they can hang out and trip on mescaline. Along the way, they also run into another American, a new-agey hippie chick who calls herself Crystal Fairy (former child star Gaby Hoffmann). Jamie had run into her at a party and said she should come along. When she calls him, saying she is on a bus to meet the roadtrippers along the way, Jamie is horrified. When the eldest brother reminds him that Jamie gave her his phone number and told her to come, he hilariously pretends that somehow that wasn't actually an invitation.
Crystal Fairy was originally supposed to be a kind of side project. Director Sebastián Silva had Michael Cera in Chile to play a creepy lecher in the psychological drama Magic Magic. When production got delayed on that film, Silva decided to do a quickly shot, mostly improvised road comedy inspired both by a trip he had taken a decade before and by the real-life dynamic developing between Michael Cera and his brothers. Magic Magic was later completed, but got dumped straight to video in the States, mismarketed as a woodsy horror movie. Meanwhile, Crystal Fairy received some acclaim and had a relatively successful arthouse run (not for nothing, Crystal Fairy is the stronger of the two films).
It is worthwhile to view these films as companion pieces, taking different approaches to the setup of two Americans far from home who end up butting heads. While Magic Magic's heroine, played by Juno Temple, slowly unravels in the foreign setting, Crystal Fairy thrives on the attention of the Chileans and hopes to convert them to her way of thinking. In both cases, Michael Cera's character is the awkward antagonist towards these women; in Magic Magic, he overtly terrorizes Temple's character (he tells her to put her face in the burning fireplace in a scene where she is hypnotized) and in Crystal Fairy, he passive-aggressively puts Crystal down at every turn (during an extremely hippie-ish moment, Crystal Fairy comes out of the shower naked, casually talking to her travel companions, and after a minute, Jamie asks, "Why are you naked, Crystal Hairy?"). But where Cera's Magic Magic character is a fairly straightforward villain whose comeuppance is an unpleasant sexual confrontation that shifts the dynamic between him and Juno Temple's character, Jamie in Crystal Fairy is the protagonist and the movie convincingly tracks his oh-so-subtle growth as a compassionate human.
Crystal Fairy is a touching character piece perfectly handled by the actors. Haters of Michael Cera might still not be convinced by this film that he has a significant range, but he does manage to hit the exact right notes of focused self-involvement and, eventually, vulnerable understanding. Gaby Hoffmann, who I have personally not seen in a film in over ten years, does a great job inhabiting this uninhibited wanderer full of contradictions (at one point, she rails to the Chileans about their bad eating habits, but then later she chugs Coca-Cola when no one is looking). And director Silva lucked out to find three good-natured, magnetic screen presences within his own family; if any of them want to strike out as actors for other directors, I'm sure they'll find work.
The Video & Audio:
The AVC-encoded 1080p 2.40:1 image looks true to what I saw when I originally watched this in a movie theater. It is often grainy, because there is a lot of shooting in low-light, but it feels stylistically appropriate to this guerrilla-shot project. None of the video noise seems to be a product of the Blu-ray mastering. The sound is in English and Spanish with forced subtitles in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and an LPCM 2.0 mix. There is not much atmosphere in the rear channels in the 5.1 mix, and they really only get used during the handful of source music cues in the film. The dialogue sounds natural and is easy to understand. There are also English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
There is a 4 1/2-minute HD "Behind the Scenes" featurette, which is actually just an interview EPK interspersed with clips from the film.
And... a trailer, plus forced trailers for On The Road, As Cool As I Am, Dealin' With Idiots, and The Canyons.
Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 is a great little movie full of perfectly executed performances that improves upon re-watching. The Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty much as good as the theatrical presentation (although it's really not that flashy in the greater scheme of things). The extras are superfluous. All things considered, I'd say this release is Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, "My Rival (The Same One That Steely Dan Has)," is now available to stream or download on Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.