Monday, July 8, 2013

Silva's CRYSTAL FAIRY: Ugly Americans in Chile take a road trip and too many drugs

The most recent Ugly American traveling through Chile -- Eli Roth in the godawful Aftershock -- proved to be less than a waste of time, so TrustMovies is happy to report that the latest set of UAs to "grace" the screen are something else entirely. In Sebastián Silva's new film, CRYSTAL FAIRY, the lately versatile actor Michael Cera, along with Gaby Hoffmann, an actress too seldom seen, bring the term ugly American to the kind of life it has rarely been given onscreen.

As Señor Silva, shown at left, proved with The Maid and then Old Cats, he's not one to shy away from problematic people. Here he lets loose with two of them, and Cera and Hoffmann grab their role and run with it, turning what at first might seem like cliche into something much weirder, stronger and -- heightened moment to entire over-the-top scene -- absolutely real. The two play very different kinds of "ugly," with Cera's the most unattractive. So much so, that for a time we worry that the performance is going to lose our sympathy completely. The actor (shown at left, below) plays Jamie, a full-of-himself, always-right, little twat who's determined to get hold of a special cactus said to provide a "high" like nothing else.

While himself higher-than-a-kite on coke at a party, Jamie encounters an odd woman who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Ms Hoffmann, above, right), and he invites her to join him and his three Chilean friends, the Silva brothers (shown below, with Cera), on their search for this famed cactus.

Madness (ranging from nutty to simple anger) ensues, as Jamie and Crystal, the proverbial oil and water, go at each other consistently. This might grow boring, were it not for all the little oddities -- events and people -- that Silva has his group encounter along the way. The Silva bros are smart enough to simply get out of the way when the flare-ups begins, so the movie belongs to Cera and Hoffman, as each creates an indelible character that viewers lucky enough to see this film will not soon forget.

I find it interesting that Silva would choose these two types to represent Americans, for they could be seen as the extremes of both the right-wing (entitled and pampered) and the left (frightened, loosy-goosey and abdicating responsibility). With or without this grid through which to view them, the characters are brought to rich, real and entertaining life.

While it would appear that a certain amount of improvisation is at work, there are still some very funny lines scattered along the way ("It's camomile. It'll relax you" is one of my favorites). There's a lollapolooza of a nude scene, too -- which should separate the men from the boys -- and some lovely coastal scenery.

Best of all, there's a view of life, consistent with Silva's other films, that finds more good in us human beings than bad and demonstrates this in a way that allows us to embrace it without either cynicism or unearned feel-good moments. Silva is special -- and so are his movies.

From IFC Films and running 100 minutes, Crystal Fairy (and the Magical Cactus) -- a few extra words appear to have been added to the title to draw in some dopers -- opens this Friday, July 12, in New York City (at the IFC Center) and Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt).

Simultaneously, the movie will open via VOD, so there's little excuse for missing this one, film fans....

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