DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS (director/writer: Sebastian Silva; cinematographer: Cristián Petit-Laurent; editors: Sebastian Silva/Sofía Subercaseaux/Diego Macho; music:  Pedro Subercaseaux; cast: Michael Cera (Jamie), Gaby Hoffmann (Crystal Fairy), Juan Andrés Silva (Champa), José Miguel Silva (Lel), Agustín Silva (Pilo); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Juan de Dios Larraín/Pablo Larraín; IFC Films; 2013-Chile-in Spanish and English, with English subtitles when necessary)

"Deadpan funny as a comedy."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A strangely affecting offbeat coming-of-age psychedelic road movie, set in Chile. It's deadpan funny as a comedy, and it has the magical power to make two obnoxious vacationing abroad Americans seem sympathetic. Directed and written by Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva ("The Maid"), who uses autobiographical material to wonderfully make it play as if there's no script and everything is natural.

The unlikable, jerky, boorish, anal compulsive, and cokehead American Jamie (Michael Cera) is in Chile to sample the reported powers of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, found in the Atacama desert, and he's with the three Silva brothers (Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva and Agustín Silva-the director's brothers) who will take him there in their SUV. Attending a drug party at night in Santiago with the brothers, the drunken and drugged-out Jamie meets fellow American screwball, the ditzy free-spirited Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann, the daughter of Andy Warhol superstar Viva), and invites her to come along with them the next morning.

In the desert, by a beach, they cook the cactus and trip out after drinking the mescaline tea, and surprising revelations overcome the preachy know-it-all peace loving freaky earth goddess Crystal, burdened with dark secrets, and the lame idler narcissistic Jamie also experiences personality changes.

I found the trippy sequence to be authentic and was surprised I found the unbearable Canadian Cera bearable as the Ugly American and the pushy hippy, as superbly played by Hoffman, to be human after all. That might not seem to be much, but I could also appreciate how skilfully it was filmed to make things look so easy-going--something most directors can't do and was impressed on how the director has confidence the viewer will dig out whatever revelations there are without telling them what to dig for.

REVIEWED ON 1/31/2014       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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