The summer of cokehead Michael Cera continues. Perhaps fearing that he’d been made obsolete by Jesse Eisenberg, the wispy little mumble-mouth also known as George-Michael Bluth has rallied this year with two persona-annihilating turns. Hot on the heels of his hilariously decadent self-parody in This is the End comes Crystal Fairy, a Sundance curio from director Sebastian Silva in which Cera delivers one of the most heroically obnoxious performances in recent memory.
He stars as Jamie, an anxious, over-entitled, ugly American tourist visiting Chile just for the drugs. Constantly muttering from underneath a floppy mop of hair, he obliviously insults nearly anyone unlucky enough to make his acquaintance. No real malice intended; he’s just one of those trust fund kids who has never had to consider that he shares the planet with other human beings. Silva kicks off the film with a side-winding party sequence in which Cera loads up on liquor and blow, clogs the toilet and eventually picks up two prostitutes, only to bore them to tears. (For future reference, “How many dicks have you sucked tonight?” probably isn’t the greatest conversation starter.)
The next morning, he can barely recall meeting Crystal Fairy, a hippy-dippy fellow American traveler with a free spirit and dubious personal hygiene. Played by former child actress Gaby Hoffmann (yes, that’s the little girl from Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck), she’s a whirling dervish of overbearing affectations. Jamie claims he can’t recall inviting her along on a road trip with his buddies, but she’s accepted all the same.
Their mission is to journey north and drink from the San Pedro cactus, which, according to local legend, has some astounding hallucinogenic properties. Accompanied by three quietly eye-rolling locals (played by the filmmaker’s brothers Juan Andres, Jose Miguel and Agustin Silva), Cera’s Jamie ignores the glorious landscapes and breathtaking vistas, fidgety and focused only on getting high and being annoyed by their unexpected guest.
Crystal Fairy is ruining everything, at least as far as Jamie is concerned. She lectures them loudly about their junk food diets and is always interrupting with some sort of mystical invocations or gifts of spirit rocks. She’s got a habit of walking around naked all the time and has no idea why this would make anybody uncomfortable. (He calls her “Crystal Hairy.”) She’s too much of a sunny star-child to pick up on his passive aggression most of the time, which makes for some wonderfully uncomfortable comedy.
The pleasure is in the details, like the way Cera always rides in the car with his seat reclined all the way back, crushing the legs of anybody sitting behind him. His rudeness would be appalling if he had any idea what an asshole he was. Instead, Jamie just starts to seem sad. The more he obsessively fixates on his dislike of Crystal Fairy, the more it starts to seem like he’s overcompensating for his attraction to her—and maybe even a little envious of her goofy, free-wheeling ways, as he’s only equipped to respond to the world with sardonic put-downs and snark.
The film was originally called Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012, a title that more aptly conveys the movie’s ramshackle style. Improvised on location during the downtime while Silva and Cera were making another picture called Magic Magic, this is a rambling lark, an amusing trip that doesn’t really go anywhere, but you don’t mind taking it all the same. The editing is deliberately jagged, and once our protagonists finally get their hands on one of those cacti—an undertaking more difficult than any of them had imagined—the movie threatens to drift away into aimlessness altogether.
But just when you’re ready to write off Crystal Fairy as a doodle, Hoffman suddenly drop-kicks the movie into an entirely different zone, with an out-of-nowhere monologue that makes you reconsider everything you’ve seen before. Silvia’s smart enough to leave the camera locked on her in a medium shot and let the actress go for it. Illuminated by the flicker of campfire light, it’s a sudden tour de force played so plainly and directly, it’s clear this is no longer just the little girl from Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck. In the space of one scene, Gaby Hoffmann becomes a movie star.
The movie closes on a deliberately unresolved note, because how can you really follow a moment like that? So much of Crystal Fairy feels like a journey to no place in particular, but by the end, it feels like you’ve been somewhere.