With a title like “Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus & 2012” and a tagline featuring “Michael Cera on a Chilean roadtrip with three Chilean brothers and an eccentric women, on a quest to score a fabled hallucinogen,” I entered the movie with a wary mindset. As a general rule, while I holistically enjoy all the movies that I’ve seen Michael Cera in (This Is the End, Juno, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), I tend to not enjoy his performances.
Unfortunately, this film is no different. While, overall, I enjoyed the film and the message it delivered to the audience, I found Michael Cera’s performance in particular to be lacking.
The film was actually quite different than what I imagined it would be; after reading a quick synopsis, I imagined that I was about to watch a straightforward pseudo-comedic movie about a group of young, testosterone-fueled men going on a road trip to find a magical drug, only to discover in the journey that friendship and brotherhood is more important.
What it was, instead, was a sentimental, documentary-style indie film about the differences between western culture vs. Chilean culture.
The movie opens with Jamie (Michael Cera) and Champa (Juan Silva) entering a party. It’s immediately revealed that Jamie is just a tourist, as Champa brings him around the room and introduces him to all his friends. Shortly thereafter, they all snort cocaine – it’s obvious that all of Champa’s friends find Jamie annoying, as Jamie rambles on and on about how this is some of the best drugs he’s ever done in his life, and how you can’t find quality cocaine back home.
While they bounce around the party in a drug-induced haze, the Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), a free-spirited, hippie girl, catches Jamie’s attention. He invites her to come along on the road trip he is taking tomorrow, and she agrees. Champa, unhappy with the way Jamie has conducted himself while drugged, demands that they go back home.
The next day, Jamie has no recollection of inviting her, and is genuinely shocked when she calls him and requests to be picked up. Champa, his two brothers, Jamie, and Crystal Fairy embark on their journey to the beach, where they plan to drink San Pedro, a hallucinogenic drug that comes from boiling a specific type of cactus, and drinking the boiled juice.
The story, at heart, is about the lack of human intimacy with strangers that westerners so painfully exhibit. In one of the most poignant scenes throughout the entire movie, Crystal Fairy and Champa approach an old woman, living alone, because they want to ask her about buying one of her San Pedro cacti. She declines to sell them a cactus, but offers the group into her home to simply have a nice chat. While Jamie continually asks them to just convince her to sell the cactus so they can get to the beach, the rest of the group is adamant in wanting to stay in the moment and just have a nice conversation with the lonely old woman. Jamie ends up stealing a cactus from her garden and shepherding them all back into the car, where he drives, refusing to stop, until they hit the beach. We are left staring at the lonely old woman, clutching a teddy bear to herself.
Throughout the latter half of the film, Jamie attempts to keep them on track to drink this drug, while it is obvious that the boys and Crystal Fairy just want to spend time with each other and enjoy the beautiful scenery, regardless of the drug.
It is an interesting juxtaposition that Sebastian Silva, the director, creates between the Chilean boys’ very laissez-faire attitude with Jamie’s hurried and almost OCD-like obsession with ingesting this drug. In addition, it was also interesting to compare the boys’ reactions to Crystal Fairy with Jamie’s reaction.
Crystal Fairy, as indicated by her name, is quite an unruly woman. Seemingly fearless of judgment, she walks around naked, and believes in spiritual release and chakra. While the Chilean boys didn’t mind her, and even went so far as to embrace her eccentricities, Jamie was very against it, immediately rejecting her and loudly voicing that he regrets ever inviting her along when they first met at the party.
I feel that there were many examples of this type of juxtaposition between American vs. Chilean culture seen throughout the film demonstrated by Jamie and the Chilean boys, and in that way, the film was successful. However, I found Michael Cera’s acting to be flat and very, very stylistically “Michael Cera.”
What I mean by this is that he plays the same character in all of his movies, which is fine, since many actors do that – I, however, do not like his performances. It always feels like he’s playing the same socially awkward, peaky, misfit teenager. One could easily transplant his character from Juno, or any other movie he has done, into this movie, and the difference wouldn’t be noticeable in the slightest.
Overall, I enjoyed Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012, if only because as someone who has grown up in a non-American culture myself, I can really identify and verify the differences I see between western (American) culture versus other cultures around the world. However, if you’re looking for a movie in which Michael Cera is not Michael Cera, you will not find what you’re looking for.
Cast: Michael Cera
Director: Sebastián Silva
Runtime: 98 minutes