Michael Cera, it’s been a while. The 24-year-old actor hasn’t toplined a movie since 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but before his most beloved resurrected project, Arrested Development, begins its spring run on Netflix, he’s back at Sundance this week with two films directed by Chilean helmer Sebastián Silva (The Maid). The first of them, Crystal Fairy, premiered in Park City last night, and you’d be forgiven for initially thinking that Cera is back in sensitive hipster mode, since the opening credits spell out Cera’s name in a squiggly scrawl and reveal that the film’s elongated title is actually the much-too-much Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012. Then the movie begins ... and Cera immediately (and aggressively) begins his quest for coke and mescaline. George Michael’s all grown up.
The movie casts Cera as Jamie, a tourist who’s canvassing Chile for a special cactus known for its powerful psychedelic powers. His hair blown out into a frizzy Gene Wilder do, Jamie is reliant on a trio of sweet Chilean guys (played by Silva’s real-life, hot-as-hell brothers) to help him barter for the cactus, even though he’s given to spouting Ugly American observations about the poor quality of Chilean cocaine and the iffiness of roadside empanadas. Jamie’s antics try the patience of the brothers more than once, so it’s karmically just when the group decides to add a tagalong latecomer to the expedition named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), even though she’s a witchy hippie that Jamie can’t stand.
So let’s talk about Gaby Hoffman for a minute, because after this film, people will be. Hoffman’s best known for her work as a child actress in films like Sleepless in Seattle and Now and Then (she also appeared in an episode of Louie last year), and it isn’t long into Crystal Fairy before she’s providing a Sundance staple: unexpected full-frontal nudity. Jamie is completely thrown by Crystal’s bare face and frequently bare body — “Crystal Hairy,” he asks, staring at her unabashed pubes, “why are you naked?” — but even more so by the highs she seems to come by naturally. He’s enraged when she can soberly stare at a pile of rocks and claim to see a face in them; every yoga pose and “healing session” she instigates, with noisy bracelets and bangles clanking on her wrists, only increases his irritation. Inevitably, Jamie will come to a drug-addled détente with Crystal, but boy, does he drag his feet.
Silva shot Crystal Fairy in twelve days when financing stalled for his other Sundance film, Magic Magic, and since the five-person cast improvised the whole film, it’s interesting to see how eagerly Cera leans into the most unsympathetic parts of his character. Cera has cited Bill Murray as the actor whose career arc he’d most like to have, and you can sense that here: Jamie’s an asshole redeemed by great comic timing, the kind of character description that’s a Murray mainstay.
And though Jamie hates the free-spirited Crystal, Silva is clearly fond of her; no surprise, since Silva revealed after the screening that he based the film on his own mescaline-fueled road trip with a mysterious female hippie ten years ago. He hopes the movie will act as an incantation to bring the real-life Crystal back into his life. “I know she’s gonna reach out, and I hope she does. I actually got along with her,” said Silva. He chuckled. “I was a fairy myself.”