“I don’t like hippies or recreational drug use,” and that’s what Sebastián Silva’s Crystal Fairy is all about. Strangely, I enjoyed the film and recommend it.
Part of the Los Angeles Film Festival Summer Showcase series, Crystal Fairy chronicles the road-trip and psychedelic-trip adventures of Jamie, played by Michael Cera,(Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffman (Homeland).
Jamie is a self-centered borderline sociopath on a quest to drink a mescaline-derived drink called San Pedro. With a group of Chilean buddies, he intends to take a just-the-guys road trip to a remote town near the ocean, where the best San Pedro can be found. The night before the trip, however, he meets another American, Crystal Fairy, at a party and invites her to come along. The trip becomes a battle of egos: I-love-only-myself Jamie versus save-the-earth Crystal.
Jamie is the film’s protagonist. It is his drug-obsession that moves the plot forward. Crystal is the antagonist. She, with good intentions, interferes with the boys’ good times on almost every level. She messes with their stomachs, trying to get them to buy veggies for snacks instead of chips. She messes with their psyches by her casual nudity.
The film is both touching and funny. The touching aspect comes from the changes that both Jamie and Crystal go through. The humor is both subtle and bawdy. After one of the aforementioned nudity incidents, for instance, the boys decide to change their female companion’s name to Crystal Hairy. She later accepts their rechristening.
Another aspect of the humor comes from the bi-lingual nature of the film. Usually, subtitles kill comedy. But in this case, the half-English and half-Spanish nature of the dialog add to the humor. The film answers the age-old question, “Are those people speaking a foreign language in my presence saying things about me?” Yes, they are. And those things are funny.
As I watched Hoffman’s performance as Crystal Fairy, I was amazed. I knew at least three “Crystal Fairies” in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The mix of self-loathing, Eastern mysticism, eco-wacko beliefs and libertinism that make up the hippie mind-set were well portrayed (including not shaving her arm pits). I began wondering whether this was really a contemporary film or actually a homage to ’60s psychedelia.
Before I could ask this question during the Q&A with director Silva and actors Cera and Hoffman after the film, Silva volunteered the answer. The film is semi-autobiographical. The story had been sitting on his computer for about ten years.
So, why make the movie now? Cera was in Chile for another project, Magic Magic, but various development hell problems kept delaying its start. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, Silva talked Cera into staring in his road-trip story, and then called Hoffman in New York. He recruited his brothers for the roles as Cera’s buds.
Silva explained that the film was shot in 14 days, and the dialogue was almost entirely improvised, although Hoffman admitted plagiarizing some stuff from a new-age author to give her hippie some realism.
Silva also said that the film was shot sequentially. “If you’re going to improvise dialog,” he said, “you almost have to shoot sequentially or you’ll get lost.” The road-trip nature of the film adapted itself to that production style.
Another audience member asked Silva how he managed to get such smooth dialog with improvisation. “I do long takes. I just keep the camera rolling, doing fifteen to forty minute takes. You can do this with digital,” he said. “I hate calling cut, because it breaks the momentum. People get out their cell phones, the make-up girl runs in to do a touch up and you lose the feel of the moment. I always shoot long.”
These unorthodox production methods, although not appropriate for every film, definitely worked for Silva.
Crystal Fairy is not yet rated, but definitely not for kids; it opens in theaters on July 12, 2013.