Michael Cera spends the opening minutes of Crystal Fairy the same way he spent the opening minutes of This Is The End: wandering a house party, hogging a bathroom, and high on cocaine. Is the actor, still boyish and lanky at 25, trying to shed all remaining traces of his stuttering nice-guy charisma? In this shaggy Chilean road comedy, Cera plays an American traveler who—to paraphrase another character—seems to have come to Latin American solely for the drugs. He’s a hyper-specific specimen of Yankee cluelessness, a globetrotting gringo who ignores the culture he pretends to appreciate, is afraid to eat the food, and approaches every new experience with a control-freak desire to shape the moment. It’s a bravely unsympathetic performance, and just when audiences may find themselves wondering if they can handle an hour and a half of this pretentious square, the movie doubles down by introducing a just-as-intolerable foil: the titular free spirit, a hippy-dippy fellow tourist played, with (literally) naked conviction, by Gaby Hoffmann.
For a moment, Crystal Fairy looks like it’s going to be a real fish-in-a-barrel satire, its rifles aimed at two very easy targets. But once a coked-out Cera invites Hoffmann on his road trip, a voyage he hopes will culminate with the consumption of a psychotropic cactus, the film gains a ramshackle quality that’s difficult to resist. Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva shot the movie on the fly when his other Cera-headlined project, the upcoming psychological thriller Magic Magic, ran into production delays. The resulting lark plays like Y Tu Mamá También recast with a pair of obnoxious Americans. Accompanying Cera and Hoffmann on the trip are three laid-back brothers (Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, and Agustín Silva, the director’s real-life siblings) whose straight-man reactions are often funnier than the boorish behavior they dutifully tolerate. Silva also piles on the oddball non sequiturs: In one of the film’s funniest throwaway gags, a morning-after phone call from Hoffmann—who Cera has forgotten he met and encouraged to tag along—provokes an ominous swell of horror-movie strings.
Beyond the laughs, there’s a hint of a moral here, too: Cera is so obsessed with planning out his drug trip that he misses out on everything—the beauty of the terrain, the company of his travelmates, and the good times he could be having if he’d just loosen up and go with the flow. That’s as sharp of an insight as the movie needed; a late bid for pathos, in which Silva stoops to providing a psychological rationale for Crystal Fairy’s behavior, feels borderline disingenuous. Still, it hardly breaks the spell—especially given the way that Cera, hilariously testy in one of his best roles, punctures the film’s most serious moment with its most flippant line. He has a real future in assholes.