VOD film review: Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus
Dazed and Confused8
Fear and Loathing7
Chris Blohm | On 26, Jan 2014
Director: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Gaby Hoffmann, Michael Cera
Watch Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus online in the UK: MUBI UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
The last time we saw Michael Cera wreak his brand of skinny hipster havoc on-screen, he was snorting coke and getting sucked (off) into oblivion in apocalyptic stoner comedy This is the End. This time around, in the quixotically titled Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, he’s a boorish gap year aberration with a yoga habit and penchant for mescaline. In the first five minutes alone, the gawky Scott Pilgrim star takes a dump, does a shedload of hard drugs, and even cooks up dinner for a pair of wandering drag queens. It’s fair to say he’s going through something of a phase.
You have to admire the guy. With the exception of Superbad, Cera has, for the most part, shunned the easy, Apatowland route to stardom. His CV is instead peppered with a mélange of awkward, cognisant roles in films like Juno, Paper Heart and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The one attempt to turn him into a mega-star (the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright’s ultra-kinetic masterpiece of pop culture hedonism) bottomed out quicker than the Bluth Company’s bank account. And then there was Year One, a neolithically terrible nano-comedy that thoroughly deserved its critical and commercial kicking.
Perhaps the world got bored with Michael Cera. Perhaps Michael Cera got bored with Michael Cera. As his Superbad co-star Jonah Hill went mainstream, shedding the pounds and wolfing down the plaudits, Cera headed in a different direction, retreating into indiedom. The change came with Miguel Arteta’s adaptation of Youth in Revolt, for which Cera was required to grow the world’s creepiest bum-fluff moustache. Nobody saw it, but that wasn’t the point. This was Cera stretching out, playing someone who wasn’t just this nerdy, bookish indie kid with issues. His portrayal of schizophrenic loser Nick Twisp, and his sexually confident alter ego Francois, propelled Cera into darker, more twisted territory.
Which brings us to Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus. It’s a road movie, and a pretty cheap one at that. But what it lacks in spectacle and splendour, director Sebastian Silva compensates with low-key, hallucinogen-based intrigue aplenty, and a likeable, wide-eyed worldview. The film marks Silva’s second collaboration with Cera to hit screens this year. In a few months, we’re getting the sinister (and superior) Magic Magic (simultaneously in cinemas and on-demand on Friday 18 April). Both these films dabble in strange, voodoo realness, but Crystal Fairy is the more accessible, playful work.
Cera plays Jamie, an obnoxious American living in Chile, who gets his kicks from hanging around the fringes of crowded parties, and indulging in an array of epicurean, narcotic thrills. He’s a typical drugs bore, deluded and self-obsessed. He’ll look twice at a turd making its way down the toilet, but struggles to see the beauty in the world around him. He is the centre of his universe.
On his travels, Jamie meets manic pixie flower child Crystal Fairy, the kind of girl who worships rocks and makes her own clothes. Eccentric and proud, Crystal’s in love with the world, and her energy and enthusiasm for life infects everyone she meets.
Crystal joins Jamie and his friends on a road trip to the coast, stopping off to steal a cactus with mythical, psychotropic properties. Once at the beach, they chop up the plant, boil up a hearty brew of pure mescaline, and proceed to get royally messed up. It’s there, on the fringe of the world, and while under the influence of the drug, that Jamie and Crystal Fairy find there’s more to each other than meets the eye.
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus is a more introspective and contemplative film than the “Cheech and Chong meets Walter Salles” sypnosis makes it sound. Gaby Hoffman is terrific as the film’s eponymous heart and soul. There’s a sadness to this performance that she really nails. Exuberant on the outside, the former child star gives us the occasional glint of the melancholy within, moving from indefatigable to vulnerable in an instant. It’s a subtle and moving turn, which is perhaps surprising considering she spends half of the film running around nude.
Cera is even better, though hardly likeable. His character is abhorrent and charismatic in equal measure. But Jamie at least gets a definitive arc, and there are some lovely moments towards the film’s conclusion when we get to see him in a more sympathetic light. There’s a particularly nice scene when he tentatively starts pulling yoga moves on the beach, his head full to the brim with kaleidoscopic glee, and you get the feeling that for the first time in his life, Jamie truly understands what he’s doing.
Is this what Cera found in the role? The portrait of the artist as a clueless, arrogant, young man, thrown into a situation he doesn’t understand, with people he barely knows? In the film’s most earnest moment, Silva’s camera gazes on as Cera falls into the ocean, and is forced to make a vital choice: does he sink, or does he swim?
Maybe it’s time to close the banana stand once and for all.
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 16th December 2019. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.