How do you show a drug trip on film? Do you inundate viewers with dystopian colors and sounds, plunging them into the psychedelic frenzy? Or do you allow them to sit back and watch as actors portray the effects of the drug, quietly and realistically demonstrating their discomfort, boredom and revelations?
In Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, writer-director Sebastian Silva (The Maid) opts for the latter approach. The result is a charming, tender exploration of companionship and the internal pain that can be eased only by the presence of a friend.
Made on a shoestring budget and set in the not-too-distant past, Crystal Fairy stars Michael Cera as Jamie, a self-absorbed American of the upper-middle-class type who is traveling in Chile with the goal of drinking the juice of a San Pedro cactus for a mescaline-fueled high.
Jamie is the kind of young man you encounter in a college dorm room the guy who smokes too much pot and reads too much philosophy. In an opening party scene, he talks loudly about the pleasures of Chilean cocaine, as though hes an aficionado. The others around him stare, mocking him in Spanish under their breath.
With local pal Champa and his two brothers (played by Mr. Silvas three actual brothers), the friends are readying themselves to journey to the Atacama desert in northern Chile, in search of the San Pedro cactus. When Jamie meets an American woman, a free-spirited hippie type who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), he casually invites her to come along.
Crystal Fairy, who Jamie describes as a lonely tornado, inserts herself into the male crew as they travel north. All the while she offers up a slew of maxims about the transcendental nature of humanity and the impending doomsday in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar.
All along, the film feels like its building to a climax. And it does. But in keeping with the laid-back manner, it is not treated too seriously.
Dealing with importance of journey versus destination, the films final message feels appropriate: There are no neat conclusions or answers to big questions.