Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 2013 film ‘Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus.’
Every now and again we come across a movie that is so frank and unfiltered in its depictions of life it’s almost off-putting. While the realism of these movies may startle some moviegoers, the honest, relatable characters these movies tend to portray often make the movies worthwhile. The 2013 Chilean adventure comedy “Crystal Fairy &the Magical Cactus” is one such example of a relatable, hyperrealistic movie.
The film follows Jamie (played by a more mature-looking Michael Cera), a boorish, selfish young American who travels to Chile to find the rare San Pedro cactus, a plant that produces a hallucinogenic drug. On his voyage, he meets a young woman known only as “Crystal Fairy” (played by Gabby Hoffman), an eccentric free spirit reminiscent of Frida Kahlo (both in her appearance and in her empowering life philosophies). As the two completely incompatible characters explore rural Chile in search of the elusive cactus, they inadvertently develop a close kinship that helps Jamie realize the faults in his emotionally distant character.
Chilean filmmaker Sebastin Silva (who has been premiering films at Sundance since 2009) wrote and directed the film. Through his film, Silva examines the harsh, seedy realities economically destitute individuals face in his native Chile. Although it never explores these topics in-depth, the film does touch on issues like prostitution and drug culture in Chile’s congested cities.
Although the film remained relatively unknown to the general public, it was quite the hit when it premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. And from the perspective of a general moviegoer, the film definitely gives off that film festival vibe. Its low-budget production style and simple story concept draw attention to the characters and the emotional conflicts they face.
While the cinematography and subject matter are akin to a ‘Vice’ documentary, the film has this subtle, distinct aesthetic that adds candidness and spontaneity to the story while also emphasizing the vibrant, relaxing beauty of the Chilean landscape. One particular scene that sticks out to me is a sequence in which Jamie and his three Chilean friends run into the Pacific Ocean while the song “Man on Fire” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros plays. The sequence elicits feelings of calmness and contentment from the audience. The movie’s muted color scheme, which makes the film look like a Destin Daniel Cretton film, also draws attention to the characters’ youthfulness and carefreeness.
Gabby Hoffman’s portrayal of Crystal Fairy carries the entire film. She comports her character with a spontaneity, openness and tenderness that would make most people uncomfortable, but Hoffman projects these traits with grace and naturalness. As a character, Crystal Fairy is an interesting individual; she is a peculiar incarnation of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” who breaks all the stereotypes associated with the archetypal character. The film makes a point of her character’s eccentricities, particularly in her proclivity for nudity and self-love. Her character is a more feminist version of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” character trope we see so often in indie movies.
Although its plot centers around the quest for a hallucinogenic plant, the film examines the humanist themes of empathy, alienation and self-realization. Jamie continuously evades his own fears and emotions until Crystal Fairy forces him to confront them. Crystal Fairy’s free-spiritedness and spirituality contrast well with Jamie’s self-absorption and emotional distance. The chemistry between them is palpable and at times even borderline romantic.
“Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus” is a rare adventure film whose frank portrayal of life is simultaneously poignant and inspirational. The free-spiritedness of the characters and the beauty of the Chilean landscape may inspire a bit of wanderlust in viewers, but its messages of love and compassion make the film a delight to watch.