Representing something of a triumphant return to feature film roles, Michael Cera stars in Chilean director Sebastián Silva’s Crystal Fairy (2013) – or, to give it its full title, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012 – a notable curio detailing the director’s peculiar experiences with narcotic enlightenment. After remaining relatively quiet since the commercial failure of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), and following a cameo in last year’s This Is the End (2013) playing a flip-reversed version of his dweeb persona, accosting Rihanna and puffing cocaine in people’s faces, Cera is granted the opportunity for a career revamp.
Cera plays Jamie, a shaggy haired, obnoxious, drug-taking gringo staying with friends in Chile, perusing the local scene and smoking and snorting whatever he can get his hands on. At a party he meets the titular Crystal Fairy (played by the luminous Gaby Hoffmann), a free-spirited and sensual American who, after saving her from what he deems as social humiliation, Jamie invites on his quest to find and get high off a San Pedro cactus, boiling and consuming its mercurial, mescaline-filled innards. After procuring such an item, Jamie and his three friends Champa, Pilo and Lel (director Silva’s brothers Juan Andrés, Agustín and José Miguel respectively) continue on their “psychoactive voyage” towards the mythic beach.
Taking umbrage with her nonchalance, spiritual nature and sometimes naked body (which he quickly dubs “Crystal Hairy”), Jamie desperately tries to dissuade her from joining what he believes will be his mystical awakening, being of the opinion that she’s diluting the novice-like nature of their journey. As the hallucinogenic concoction begins to take effect, however, Jamie begins to reconsider his stance on the world around him and the noxious, sarcastic opinions that have thus far made him so unlikeable. Quickly typecast as an awkward, nebbish young adult since his breakout role in Superbad (2007), Cera’s work here should be commended for its audacity to challenge public perceptions and embrace an untapped range; his portrayal of Jamie carries an otherwise rather uninspired little ditty from Silva, who swaps narrative complexity in favour of simple character absorption.
Stripped of the usual signs and signifiers of teenage stoner-on-the-road films (see 2000’s Road Trip), where frat pack smut is met with slapstick pratfalls, Crystal Fairy shows expert restraint especially in the final third, as its straightforward storytelling transforms into something more tastefully eccentric. Omitting distracting visual quirks, Silva – who, along with his cast, work from a improvisatory twelve-page outline – have clearly taken the time to workshop their characters, and it shows; the path Cera’s Jamie goes on feels natural and sincere, and his relationship with Crystal, whose outré persona may just be an inner pain-masking front, turns several soulful corners. Though it may not be entirely memorable, it makes for an underplayed and gently humorous watch, perhaps a far cry from Silva’s next project with Cera – Magic Magic (2013).