Hiding behind masks that cover their vulnerability, two Americans in Chile, Jamie (Michael Cera) and Crystal Fairy, a young free-spirited woman (Gaby Hoffmann), spar off against each other in Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva's psychedelic comedy Crystal Fairy. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and won the Directing Award for World Cinema at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Jamie's act is one of controlling, overly-aggressive behavior but not quite the "Ugly American," while Crystal's is the opposite but equally phony, a caricature of a "hippie" filled with love for everyone who spouts clichés about chakras and mother earth, walks around her hotel room naked, engages in healing rituals, and chides the others for eating junk food.
It's hard to tell if the director is using her persona as a means of ridiculing these ideas or just showing how inauthentic she is. In any event, Crystal and Jamie's way of being, while it fills a need for them, has costs in sacrificing who they really are. On the surface, the film is a road trip to find a psychedelic substance in the San Pedro cactus plant which, when boiled for twelve hours and ingested, has the properties of mescaline (it has been said that the actors used mescaline while shooting the film). In essence, however, the film is not really about mescaline but about releasing rigid patterns of behavior and discovering new ways of interacting that are more fulfilling.
The film begins at a party where Silva's hand-held camera-work and improvised conversation is established. On a cocaine high, the caustic Jamie invites a partygoer, a girl who calls herself Crystal Fairy to accompany him and his friends on a quest to repeat the spiritual high described in Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception. When Crystal takes him up on the offer the next day (which he has forgotten that he even made), he is dismayed by her annoying behavior, even though his Chilean friends, Champa (Juan Andres Silva) and his two brothers Lel (Jose Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Augustin Silva), seem more tolerant, perhaps because at least one does not understand English. Their trip to the ocean to locate and purchase a piece of the San Pedro cactus from reluctant residents is one of the comic highlights of the film, even though Jamie has to eventually use surreptitious means to acquire it.
Crystal Fairy ends up in a good place even though it is more than a little irritating in getting there. During the trip, Jamie and Crystal talk to each other, but at cross purposes. The results are unpredictable but, suffice it to say, their longing for a spiritual experience does not take the form that Huxley described. Michael Cera's role is out of character from the lovable, nerdy self he has played in earlier movies, but he is terrific in this film, totally natural and very real, as is Hoffmann in her role, both continuing to reveal a new dimension to their character. Ultimately, the group's sharing about their fears and their discovery of how their act no longer serves their purpose in life is more open and honest than anything I've seen in films recently and stays in the memory.