'Crystal Fairy' review: This is how to make a drug-fueled road trip story boring
On paper, this film has all the ingredients of an interesting indie film. An obsessed hero searches a faraway land for a fabled drug - but his journey is disrupted by his perfect antithesis.
Yet somehow, 'Crystal Fairy' is a pretty boring trip to the beach.
In short: A high-strung, selfish American (Michael Cera) dreams of drinking a hallucinogenic cactus tea on a Chilean beach. He ropes a group together to join him on a road trip to find this exotic cactus. But his entire journey is thrown into a tail spin when free-spirited Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) unexpectedly joins the group. (watch the trailer)
Now streaming on Netflix: 'Crystal Fairy'
The unpolished, genuine tone of 'Crystal Fairy' and performances from its two main actors save this meandering, minimal story from completely slipping into a coma.
According to director Sebastián Silva, much of 'Crystal Fairy' was improvised rather than scripted - and it shows. To Silva's credit, this drug-obsessed, Mumblecore journey does feel raw and naturalistic, largely due to its perfectly imperfect improv dialogue. The combination of hand-held camera work and some impressive improv timing make some scenes feel more akin to a documentary than a fictional story.
While the 'story framework + no script' Mumblecore formula works for some films ('The Puffy Chair' or 'Tiny Furniture'), it also causes 'Crystal Fairy' to stutter and stall. 'Fairy' is packed with many scenes that are just a little too long -- mainly due to 'naturalistic' pauses and dead air. Aggregated over the length of an entire movie, the end result is a film that seems overall too long ... even though it's barely over 90 minutes long.
Along those lines: although 'Fairy' has five main roles, Cera and Hoffmann's characters are the only two characters that matter at all. This mismatched pair are two fun, intriguing and opposing sides of the same coin. Their surface differences appear significant, but Cera's drug-obsessed character is every bit as off-putting and an imposition as the liberated, self-righteous Crystal Fairy.
Cera proves sharply adept with the improvised dialogue style. He has many of the film's best lines and appears the most at ease with this approach to film making. Hoffmann excels as the wild card Crystal Fairy - she playfully dances between a care-free spirit without boundaries and a liberated woman of principle. This film is at its best when these two characters bounce off each other.
'Crystal Fairy' is movie about five people on a road trip - and that fact that three of them are horrifically boring is a massive problem.
While Cera and Hoffmann's characters are locked in a battle of wills, the other three Chilean characters contribute almost nothing to this movie. They don't drive the narrative forward. Their improvised dialogue is often flat or uninteresting. Essentially these three characters only do two things: get pushed around by Cera's annoying character or get creeped out by Crystal Fairy's nonchalant, au natural nudity.
In the end, any film that opts for a minimal narrative in favor of improvised scenes must absolutely have interesting characters and compelling interaction. Improvised scenes require a spark of defined characters and sharp wit/improv acumen to electrify scenes. Unfortunately, too many scenes in 'Crystal Fairy' lack a catalyst and leave the overall film feeling pretty inert.
Final verdict: The minimal, improv-based narrative of 'Crystal Fairy' allows Cera and Hoffmann to shine, but it also leaves too much room for flat story dynamics that erode the film's naturalist energy. This character study of a selfish man is overwhelmed by a plodding framework.