Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus opens with cutesy scribbles of road trip imagery disintegrating — in a trippy and cartoonish way — into crystals. The film then kicks off by demonstrating that it isn't afraid of showing a little excessive drug use, with Michael Cera complaining about the quality of cocaine he has had access to during his time in Chile. He then proceeds to do a lot of it.
Drug usage is central to the film. In fact, it drives the plot along, sending Cera's character Jamie, along with Gaby Hoffmann's Crystal Fairy title character, on an adventure. Yet, drug usage never becomes thematic. The camera, helmed by Sebastián Silva, lingers on Cera's face, oftentimes for longer than is comfortable, showing his flummoxed, often inappropriate responses to the goings on around him.
Jamie gets wasted and observes Gaby Hoffmann's character (who turns the table on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl by taking the "dream" out of the equation) dancing, twirling, and describing herself as a "lonely tornado." Her kindness and American nationality immediately (and fleetingly) warms her to him, and he drunkenly invites her to join him and his locally based friend Champa on a journey to try San Pedro, a cactus that produces mescaline.
The next day, a hungover and pushy Jamie doesn't even remember that he invited Crystal Fairy, but his likable and laid-back friend Champa (plus his two IRL brothers) have no problem with her being a part of the trip. And, therein lies the conflict.
Photo: Courtesy of IFC Studios
Jamie starts off as being reminiscent of any liberal arts school stereotype but, as the story progresses, becomes more and more irritating. In fact, Cera impressively uses the doofy, "oh gosh"-quality that made him a household name by channelling it into said character, a limp-wristed grump who wants to get wasted at any cost. Though Crystal Fairy is often the butt of many jokes (an oblivious — or rather "oblivious" Fairy seems shocked when Jamie is uncomfortable about seeing her very, very naked), but midway through the movie we begin to feel for her. She seems like a good-natured girl — that is, if you are totally accepting of her nature.
Which is what is what makes Crystal Fairy a pretty entertaining film: Both Jamie and Crystal Fairy are equally annoying and devoid of peripheral vision. Despite all her open and spiritual postering — including dumping crystals into beers and forcing her "fairy drawings" onto people — Crystal Fairy is the worst type of control freak: the one who doesn't even realize she's being controlling. In fact, our sympathies shift to the three brothers, who, like us, are just along for the ride and enjoying the scenery. Hey, at least they can speak the language, instead of bumbling through it like the central protagonists.
The director and actors have been very open about the drug usage in the movie, which actually took place — and, legality and health concerns aside — made the scenes incredibly authentic. Silva says, "It felt so normal, though. It didn’t work for the guys, but it worked really well for Hoffmann. She seemed like she could step in and out of her high, and come down to Earth to work with me and then she’d do her thing, and then come back to the scene." In fact, the starlet's performance is silly, lovable, ugly, and captivating.
The best surprise of this movie is that there is no heavy-handed moral, no anti-drug (or pro-drug, even) rhetoric, and no catharsis. Crystal and Jamie just realize that, hey, they are kind of being insufferable jerks. Crystal Fairy realizes that she might not be so happy and all-embracing as she posits. And, Jamie may have his most eye-opening moment of the trip after the drugs have worn off, which highlights the point of the movie: These preoccupations, be they with "crystals" or "fairies" or cactii, often means you are missing out on the journey.
Crystal Fairy is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, opens nationally on July 19.