"Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus." Wow. With a title like that, Chilean director Sebastián Silva must have known his movie would get some attention just out of sheer curiosity. If you are hooked with the title, here is the concept: an American in Chile embarks on a road trip with some friends and a hippie girl to find a cactus, drink its juice, and have a psychoactive reaction by the beach. We are miles away from “Arrested Development” here.
Based on a real person the director met, the movie tells the story of Jamie (Cera) an American in Chile who seems determined to have as many drug experiences as possible. At a party he goes from smoking weed to sniffing cocaine while complimenting the hosts on the drugs’ quality. Naturally the next day he is a bit out of it and late for a road trip with his friend Champa (Juan Andrés Silva) and his brothers Pilo and Lel (Agustín and José Miguel Silva). The plan is to travel across the Chilean desert, find a rare cactus called the San Pedro, and drink it to have a hallucinogenic experience.
A chink in Jamie’s plan comes in the form of Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), the only American woman he met at the party. Seeing her embarrass herself on the dance floor he decided to approach her and give him his phone number. In the midst of his drug haze he told her his travel plan, inviting her to join the boys further down the road. The only thing is he had completely blocked it out of his mind so it is a complete surprise when she calls to ask the boys to pick her up at the next town. Jamie would be content with leaving her at some hostel, but his Chilean friends think the right thing to do would be to pick her up and have her along for the trip.
As her name indicates, Crystal Fairy is quite a number. Whereas Jamie is pretty uptight and always impatient, she just goes with the flow and embraces change. In fact, she is the kind of woman who embraces everything. She believes in karma, chakras, and healthy eating unlike the Chilean boys who survive on a diet of cookies and coke. In a particularly hillarious scene at a motel, she shows that what she doesn’t believe in is shaving body hair, and I mean ANY body hair. It is as though someone travelled back in time to the 1970s, brought back a hippie and never told her to adapt to the 21st century.
The film has a lot of improvised dialogue and a few extra scenes that do not go anywhere, but the characters and the setting make for a very compelling journey. The Chilean desert looks beautiful, making you feel like you could get sunburn by just looking at the screen. Once the gang finally settles on the beach for the ingestion of the long-sought San Pedro, it leads to a poignant revelation.
Cera does a good job of portraying Jamie as a fish-out-of-water who still tries to get things his way. Despite speaking very little Spanish, he comes off as bossy and annoying when ordering his friends around. Hoffman plays the perfect counterweight, trying to be friendly with everyone she encounters without a care in the world.
Compared to other movies about road trips (and drug trips) “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus” is no “Easy Rider,” but its characters and setting will keep you intrigued. As for Hoffman, she deserves kudos for baring it all onscreen in more ways than one.
("Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus" is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)