Writer/director Sebastian Silva (The Maid) and star Michael Cera ran out of money while making Magic Magic (also premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) and decided to go on a road trip. Bringing along a charming trio of Chilean brothers – Agustin, José Miguel, and Juan Andrés Silva – and Gaby Hoffman, the group guerilla-style shot a meandering comedy about getting away from it all and the personalities that can clash even within a group as small as five. Cera plays against type, doing copious amounts of drugs and being more socially annoying than even his detractors could imagine he would be in real life, and the attempt to explode his on-screen persona is notable, but the movie actually plays not unlike the all-night hallucinatory drug experience that its characters seek – there are some ups and downs but the crash comes long before the sun comes up.
Jamie (Cera) is on one of those undefined international adventures that quarter-life crisis kids often take when they’re trying to figure out what the Hell to do with their lives. He’s aggressively living Chilean life, doing blow in a bathroom, picking fights at a party, and inviting w****s back to his friend’s apartment to make rice simply because he finds them interesting. He goes with his own flow and you better go with it too or he’s going to sulk. He’s one of those guys who preaches living for the moment but it better be exactly how he wants it lived.
Jamie and three friends (the Silvas) are heading to a remote town in search of a San Pedro cactus, a plant that can be cut, chopped up, cooked, and turned into mescaline. They’re going to buy the goods from a local, take it to the beach, and get messed up under the stars. The night before their trip, Jamie gets hammered and tells his plans to a free-wheeling hippie chick who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Hoffman). He even encourages her to call him and take the bus to a small town and meet them. The next day, he forgets all of this and immediately regrets her presence. He suggests leaving her on multiple occasions and is openly hostile to her beliefs and general spirit. He is all negativity. She is flowers and rainbows. Hilarity ensues.
To be fair, Silva doesn’t overplay the potential cultural or worldview differences inherent in his loose plot and avoids complete comedic disaster. Jamie isn’t just a typical “Ugly American.” He’d be ugly in the States too. And Crystal Fairy actually becomes a sympathetic character instead of the caricature that she easily could have become. The brothers ground the film, almost serving as the straight men for what is essentially the story of a bitter, socially maladjusted kid who has probably annoyed most of the people he’s traveled with through South America and the girl who may first seem annoying but actually has a fascinating story and encouraging worldview.
Clearly, there are things to like here but Crystal Fairy seriously wears out its welcome after the gang gets to the beach and begins cooking their cactus, long before the credits roll. After a while, I just wanted off that beach as too many of the same beats were hit and the film extended past what should have been its running time. Given the on-the-fly nature of the entire production, it’s surprising that the most fatal flaw of Crystal Fairy is its simply ludicrous pace in its second half. It’s a road trip that starts off with some fun moments but really just made me want to go home again long before the journey ended.