The pairing of Sebastián Silva and Michael Cera remains something of an oddity, though their collaboration amounts to one of the more exciting films of 2013. Silva first showed up on my radar in 2009 with an impressive sophomore effort called The Maid. Uncharacteristically nuanced and aware for such a young director, Silva moved on to other projects, including a HBO-GO exclusive comedy called The Boring Life of Jacqueline. With the ubiquitous Michael Cera admiring the director’s work, the news that Silva was struggling to finance his next picture piqued his interest. With an established actor attached, Silva and Cera developed their mutually-beneficial relationship and began work on what a trilogy of pictures (Crystal Fairy, Magic Magic, and Captain God). Shot while awaiting financing for Magic Magic, Crystal Fairy’s thirst for exploration and spontaneity proves to be a welcoming surprise.
Despite feeling a bit like a free-form exercise for Silva and Cera, Crystal Fairy does adhere to a fairly typical narrative arc. With rumors circulating about the trippy high produced from the juices of a local cactus, Jamie’s (Michael Cera) visit to Chile is dedicating to obtaining the plant and sharing the high with his friends. Essentially a road movie, the film is a tonally jarring effort, marred by dramatic shifts in temperament and disposition. This largely comes from the strained relationship between Jamie and Crystal Fairy (an excellent Gaby Hoffmann). Crystal Fairy functions as the granola antithesis to Jamie’s cynical neurosis. The traveling group also consists of Silva’s brothers as Jamie’s friends who navigate the Chilean roads. Silva often frames his brothers as reactionary to the dickishness of Cera character or the crunchiness of Hoffmann’s role.
Hoffmann and Cera’s exceptional chemistry is really the result of some well-developed character elements in the film’s writing. Without spoiling Crystal Fairy’s finale, Silva weaves an elaborate web in which both characters possess such divergent traits yet ultimately unite in their own wounded ways. Given the film’s sometimes abrasive structure, Silva’s finale is an earned moment of emotional resonance with unexpected heft.
As rich as the film’s acting, writing, and direction may be, it’s Cristián Petit-Laurent’s debut cinematography that really impresses. Framing the Chilean landscape in a wide-range of hues, Laurent’s work may initially seem like the steady deployment of Instagram filters. But the various visual palettes here work wonderfully, often coalescing with where the narrative is moving. As Laurent shoots in three settings (metropolis, rural, and oceanic), the crispness of his images are impeccably confident for a new cinematographer.
With the promise of future films down the pipe, Crystal Fairy starts the collaboration between Silva and Cera on the right foot. The speediness of its production is almost nonexistent given the formal intricacies, but the narrative detours down several paths that at times jeopardizes the pacing. Still, if a rushed effort has this level of kinetic energy, one has to wonder what a more developed one could offer.