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SIFF ADVANCE: Crystal Fairy - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: Crystal Fairy
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: A-

Crystal Fairy is the kind of movie that sticks with you. It's a two-way street, though: you have to stick with it first. It's tempting to lose interest for the first short while, but then things start coming together with an almost sneaky confidence.

In a wonderful night-sky animated opening title sequence featuring stars, the full title of the film is revealed to be Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012. Catchy, huh? Thus far, none of the promotional materials -- of which there is presently little, as it runs the festival circuit -- are featuring this full title. Probably a smart move. As the movie unfolds, the title makes much more sense. For instance: the "Magical Cactus" is in effect the treasure searched for by the five main characters for a very large portion of the movie. They're intention is to go camping and use the nectar of this particular cactus to get high.

Getting high is something Jamie, the central character, does a lot of. Jamie is played by Michael Cera in perhaps his biggest departure to date. Superbad, this is not. From the opening scenes, Jamie is drinking and snorting coke. Also, Jamie is an un-self-conscious prick. For a very long time he is eminently unlikeable, until suddenly you're empathizing with him, which is a delicate trick for an actor to pull off.

The same could be said of Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffman, a 31-year-old actress previously best known as one of the kids in movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Volcano. Try not to think about that during her many full-frontal nude scenes in this movie. Hoffman embodies the insufferable hippie persona of Crystal extremely well. She's the kind of person who drops small rocks into everyone's drinks because she says they have healing powers.

Jamie behaves as though Crystal is crashing the party when she shows up for a group hike to the beach, where they're planning to get high on the cactus, even though Jamie quite directly invited her at a party where he was really high. He's going along with three Chilean brothers, played by three Chilean actors: Agustín Silva; José Miguel Silva; and Juan Andrés Silva. These brothers have all different levels of ability with the English language, but the one brother who can't speak any English often gets translations from another brother.

All of this takes place in Chile, the native country of writer-director Sebastián Silva (The Maid), here offering his first English-language film. Still maybe a third of the dialogue is in Spanish with subtitles. The storytelling style and complete unpredictability of this movie are about as fresh and unconventional as they can be; it never goes in a direction even remotely close to where any Hollywood movie would take these characters. There's never even any moral judgment of Jamie's extensive drug use; the focus with him is more on his abrasive personality.

Only the cinematography is arguably of lesser quality, and perhaps some of the sound mixing. Occasionally it feels like the movie is trying to shove into our faces how much of a low-budget foreign indie it is. The hand-held camera work, sometimes far too shaky for its own good, gets tiresome. Why do we need to be bounced all over the place when we're just looking at a guy standing alone thinking on the beach?

That's no reason to avoid the movie, though. After a while you discover some subtle but concrete character development has occurred, and it was actually happening all along. Crystal Fairy is an unusually satisfying movie in that regard, and the actors in particular sell it with grace and nuance. There are many moments of great humor that come seemingly out of nowhere. This is a unique film with great rewards.

Gaby Hoffmann and Michael Cera go on a trip in a class of its own in CRYSTAL FAIRY.

Overall: B+
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