‘Crystal Fairy’ turns Michael Cera into an Ugly American abroad

Gaby Hoffmann and Michael Cera play Americans in Chile about to make some mescaline. Credit: Sofia Subercaseaux
Gaby Hoffmann and Michael Cera play Americans in Chile about to make some mescaline.
Credit: Sofia Subercaseaux

‘Crystal Fairy’
Director: Sebastian Silva
Stars: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

“Crystal Fairy” is first and foremost the latest attempt by Michael Cera to shed his bland, button-his-shirt-to-the-top nice guy image. “This is the End” all too briefly presented him as a groping cokehead. “Fairy” settles for him being a brusque, self-involved Ugly American type. The first of two tiny road trip films he made in Chile with “The Maid” filmmaker Sebastian Silva (the other, “Magic Magic,” is still looking for a distributor), it casts him as Jamie, an expat of apparent bottomless wealth in Santiago, who of course hasn’t bothered to learn the language.

At a party he’s so happy to meet another American — and so high — that he doesn’t immediately notice that she’s a spacey, annoying hippie named (yes) Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). To his horror, she joins he and local buds on a trip to drop mescaline at a remote beach. Their hoped-for-good times are thus plagued by her micromanaging their hang-outs, talking about 2012 doomsday (this is a slight period piece) and dropping “magic” rocks in their beer.

Jamie’s entitled stranger in a strange land routine, comically abrasive though it is, is quickly overshadowed by his irritation with someone who’s even more of an outsider than him. Likewise, Cera’s image-shedding is eclipsed by Hoffmann’s hugely dedicated and often surprising performance. Cera was an adolescent star, but Hoffmann was a child actor who appeared in the likes of “Field of Dreams” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” This is the meatiest, closest-to-high profile role she’s ever had, and she digs right in.

Crystal Fairy has her share of hippie cliches (including casual nudism that unnerves, not delights, her male comrades, whom she condescendingly calls “my boys”). But Hoffmann gives her other shades. She can be genuinely warm. And she can be deeply passive-aggressive, if not aggressive-aggressive. She might seem like a space cadet, but Hoffmann slips in notes of bitter self-awareness. After Jamie, having long tried to (barely) conceal his contempt, finally explodes on her, she quietly departs from the group. It’s suggested she’s getting old enough that she’s finally starting to sense how her flower child behavior alienates her from others.

One never knows which side she’s going to show, or how deeply she’ll dig into whichever conflicting side of her persona. And she gives this shambling, loose drug trip film — ably handled by Silva, whose tactile, handheld filmmaking never devolves into a silly tripping style — a neurotic, character-driven shot in the arm.


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