Review: Crystal Fairy and The Magical Cactus

Written by: Mark Cappuccio

Drugs, drugs, drugs! 

There have been many films made over the years featuring the consumption of mind altering substances, from Roger Corman’s seminal The Trip; Hunter going over the edge in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas to the recent silly-but-damn-funny 21 Jump Street.  So, to see that the mild-mannered Michael Cera was going to add to this vast pantheon was a quiet surprise, despite already appearing in This Is the End, taking loads of cocaine and being a total dick.

Michael Cera holding a cactus

This is a gentler tale told by writer and director Sebastian Silva who brings us a simple tale of Jamie (Cera) travelling to Chile to visit his friend Champa (Juan Andrés Silva) and seek out the San Pedro cactus so that they can take some other friends to the beach and have a communal trip out on the cactus’ juice (which distils into Mescal).

But at a wild party before they set off, Jamie meets a crazy hippie chick called Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) and in a drunken haze invites her along for the adventure. Later, when the boys are already on the way to the beach, Crystal calls Jamie up to meet them in the next town and what follows is a battle of wills and one man’s gradual journey towards humility.

The Sundance festival has often thrown up some little gems of films, many find their way onto wider distribution like the hit Little Miss Sunshine while others seem to disappear or eventually find a home on DVD.  So it’s nice that this ‘indie’ film is getting a limited cinema release here before its eventual home entertainment destination. What you have here is, yes, yet another road movie where the main characters travel to an almost mystical destination in order to grow and find something new about themselves. However, Cera manages to play his boorish and ignorant character just the right side of annoying so that by the film’s close you can see that he has changed and can forgive him for some of his behaviour.

Hoffmann is fabulous as Crystal, proving to be unflappable despite the goading of Jamie and then practically stealing the film out from Cera in a stunning scene in the third act, managing to make your jaw drop with her character’s dialogue and story.  Kudos too, to the supporting cast who keep the semi-improvised script ticking over with a sense of realism.

Writer and director Silva based the script on a real event and Crystal on a real girl he met so that things do feel honest all be it a little rough around the edges and it’s great to see that when the drugs are finally taken he avoids any on screen silly visuals, CGI or graphics opting to keep the camera on the group’s faces to portray their experiences.

It’s a charming tale nicely acted by Cera who is fast proving to be his generation’s Woody Allen and the go to actor to depict the bright but wounded onscreen fool.  Grab a beer with some friends and check this out, but avoid the drugs, eh kids.

Author: Mark Cappuccio

Mark grew up as a ragged street urchin in Bermondsey and escaped the soot of the city to the green hills of North Wales to study English and Film at a cheap university. While there he started up the university magazine and acted as editor and chief contributor, he also made three short films, starred and produced in some plays and true to form played an excellent Scrooge one Christmas long ago. He fled Wales as they did not like his Dj’ing and returned to Londinium, where he now teaches Film & Media studies, works on his book, writes a blog, short stories and also finds time to work as ScreenTrade magazines’ resident film reviewer and has written the successful and popular ‘Box Office Banter’ articles for the last 10 years. One of his weirdest film memories is seeing The Empire Strikes Back as a child and then chasing off a man trying to break into a car behind the cinema because he thought he was Chewbacca! He has too many favourite films and hates being asked but will be watching Singin’ in the Rain for the rest of his days.

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