There couldn’t have been a more appropriate setting for the premiere of Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy than at Sundance 2013. Not only is he a name around town, with his film The Maid winning the Dramatic Jury Prize in 2009, but he’s also a filmmaker who knows how to have a good time. And while watching Crystal Fairy, after stepping out of the freezing cold Park City air, it’s hard not to. It’s also very much about those fleeting friendships, when you meet someone for only a small moment in time and, somehow, they manage to change you. It happens in the film, and it also happens at Sundance.
A deliciously hilarious and complex Michael Cera plays Jamie, an American traveling in Chile. He has one thing on his mind: finding the San Pedro cactus, eating it and tripping balls. His obsession with acquiring the shamanistic hallucinogen prompts a road trip with his three friends, played by Silva’s real life brothers Juan, Jose and Agustin.
The night before the trip, Jamie meets a strange, spiritual woman named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Although he makes fun of her odd dancing at the party, electricity soon forms between them. Through his coked-out, drunken stupor, he invites her to join their adventure.
The boys hit the road the next morning. When Crystal calls, Jamie claims he never invited her, but he gives in and soon she’s singing in their SUV back seat. She’s an enigma. She’s an anomaly. Jamie finds making fun of her his own personal stand-up comedy routine. He asks the guys if they’d rather stick their nose in Crystal’s armpit for two days, or make out with their dad. They choose dad.
But there’s more to Crystal Fairy than her magical stones, unabashed nudity (I warn you) and all-natural hygiene tendencies. Gaby Hoffman does a magnificent job at hinting at Crystals’ magnificent complexities. Jamie’s sharp tongue sometimes slices too far into her peaceful, zen-like façade.
Once the gang is able to steal a piece of cactus and flee to their beach sanctuary, their friendships begin to tangle. Jamie becomes wildly annoying. The cactus entrances him. While the boys play soccer on the beach and Crystal doodles in her journal, Jamie hovers over the cooking pot. The cactus has to be perfect and they have to take it as soon as possible…or his head might explode. The seemingly simple trip turns sour. Jamie and Crystal begin to butt their horns and their disharmony resonates outwardly across the sand. One pebble in the ocean can ripple a previously calm surface. And no one wants to take drugs in an unsettled atmosphere.
But through all of this, Silva is subtle. His writing is natural and the camera poses no judgment and takes no sides. He allows his lens to rest upon a character’s eyes just long enough for us to peek in…but only for a moment. When talking to the cast at the Sundance red carpet before the premiere I asked Cera, “What was your reaction when you first read the script?” He replied, “There was no script, just more of an outline.” Silva’s production of his other film at Sundance Magic Magic had been pushed back. He had time to kill, a camera and a subject to explore. Crystal Fairy is based upon a girl in his own life. He knew he wanted Gaby on board and then the other cast members fell into place. And wow, how they fit. Cera’s work is seamless, flowing in and out of neurosis, immaturely and surprising vulnerability. Silva claims, “He’s playing me.” They also shot Crystal Fairy in twelve days. It was on the fly and this freedom is, ironically, what gives the film its weight. It’s real, it’s in the moment and it’s all because they had no time to over-think the story or what the “theme” should be.
The film is refreshing and, unlike many others at the festival, it wasn’t there to be dubbed a masterpiece. It’s honest art and Silva is open about that. And that fun you have in the theater is reminiscent to Tarantino or Kubrick’s work. If you want to purely be entertained, the opportunity is there. But if you do allow the film to sink in, to marinate, you see there’s much more. It’s about relationships, friendships, oddities in people that draw us both closer and farther apart. But at the end of the day, it makes you feel free and open to explore the stranger you meet on the shuttle, or the fairy you meet on the beach.