by Allan Day
Full disclosure: I have been to a higher plane of existence. At least, that's how it felt at the time. Hallucinogens will do that to you. That is why people seek them out; it's called a “trip” because that's what it feels like: a journey to a different kind of consciousness where everything is altered and reality has a whole new meaning. It's incredible. It is no surprise that religions have sprung up around the various mushrooms, vines, and cacti which provide these experiences, or that people will travel from around the world to where these things grow to take them and have a spiritual experience.
One such vehicle is mescaline, which can be procured from various species of cacti. It is the San Pedro cactus which features in “Crystal Fairy,” the full title of which is actually “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012.” Michael Cera stars as Jamie, an American who travels to Chile with the intent of meeting up with some friends (local Chileans), procuring the San Pedro cactus, and taking the mescaline on the beach. At a party, stoned, coked up, and drunk all at once, he meets another American, a quirky girl who calls herself Crystal Fairy (played by Gaby Hoffman) and invites her along. Insisting later that he didn't invite her, that she misunderstood, he and his three friends are nevertheless joined by Crystal Fairy, whose antics annoy him to no end as they set out to find the mystical substance.
Michael Cera is fantastic. He blew our minds in “This is the End” as he portrayed himself hyper-coked and over-sexed, and that worked because we know him so well as the quiet, awkward kid he plays in pretty much his entire body of work. In “Crystal Fairy,” imagine the Michael Cera we know and love, but as if he has learned to deal with his awkwardness with the help of drugs and alcohol, which have given him a new-found confidence – which, unfortunately, manifests as pushiness and self-centeredness. He does not seem like a fun person to be around; he is a nice person, but is unintentionally an asshole. He doesn't realize when he is rude, he isn't aware when he is constantly inconveniencing everyone around him, but that's how he is, and as we get to know his character, we even forget that it is Michael Cera we are watching – which is impressive for somebody who is as typecast as he is.
The film is really about the friction between he and Crystal Fairy, who is also incredible. She is the epitome of what we have come to know as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she doesn't feel like part of the elaborately constructed pattern Hollywood has honed and perfected. She feels real. She is that overly-friendly, always smiling new-agey girl you find on every college campus, who is “spiritual, not religious,” and believes in the healing powers of crystals and yoga. She is the perfect foil for Cera's Jamie, whose intentions for taking the San Pedro are in the right place (in his mind, at least; he has, after all, read Aldous Huxley's “The Doors of Perception”), but he scoffs at her attempts to spiritualize not just the event, but the journey leading up to it.
One is tempted to praise the script, but apparently much of the film was improvised. It's hard to tell what was planned and what was not, but it was all just about perfect. Any good film is about character development – or the meaningful lack thereof – and the climax of the film is the drinking of the San Pedro essence. It is stated throughout the film that it is important to be in a good state of mind when taking the drug, but Jamie's refusal to concede to Crystal's hokiness on their journey causes some consternation amongst his companions. We witness the effect the drug has on those who take it, and the result is, in my opinion, quite poignant.
The brilliance of the film is that it never reveals too much. We don't know why Jamie is an asshole, we just know that he is and that that will probably affect the effect the mescaline has on him. We are given a brief glimpse into the past of Crystal Fairy, a hint as to maybe why she is the way she is, but it is not dwelt upon. We are given one kind of intense look, and then we move on; it's not a big deal – that's not what the movie is about. What the movie is about is this relationship between these two very different kinds of people, and what happens when they meet on a different dimensional plane which one of them lives pretty close to on a daily basis, and which the other is very possibly not ready for, despite his arrogant assurance otherwise. And it definitely works. This is a win for director Sebastián Silva, whose next film, “Magic Magic,” also starring Michael Cera, is certainly something to look forward to.