As I was browsing through Netflix, I stumbled upon the 2013 film Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, which instantly caught my eye with its trippy advertisement poster art. It wasn’t hard to tell this would be one of those quirky indie flicks that most people, like myself, believe can be severely overlooked. The bonus inclusion of one of my favorite actors, Michael Cera, further piqued my interest, along with its strange synopsis boasting of an eccentric viewing. As ludicrous as the title suggests the film will be, it caught me off guard by unfolding into a rather touching character study about different walks of life connecting together in harmony—in light of all the odds they face.
The surreal daydream state of the film depicts Jamie (Michael Cera), who is traveling abroad in Chile with three native brothers, going wherever the winding road may take them. They stumble upon a party where they meet a free-spirited hippie who is simply introduced as Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). It’s evident Crystal Fairy is the complete antithesis to Jamie when her personality is met with his snobbery, as he believes she’s pretty much an annoying weirdo right out the gate. At first you find yourself siding against Crystal Fairy, as her strong views makes you roll your eyes nearly as much as Jamie’s does after she’s invited to tag along.
But as the story progresses, you get a distinct feeling for who these people are deep down and what makes them tick. The journey turns into a mission to acquire a rare hallucinogen—San Pedro cactus—to share on a beach at the edge of the desert. It’s in this search you start to notice that though Jamie is more culturally aware of his surroundings than Crystal Fairy, she is clearly more passionately in tune with those they encounter. This is illustrated when they get a lonely old lady to think about selling them a cactus from her garden, but she welcomes them inside her home for conversation first. Of course, Jamie’s selfish desires to do what he wants leads him to steal a big chunk outside while Crystal Fairy is appreciating the sweet hospitality.
At this point, the film brings up the intriguing subject of how people can obsess over pleasures they’ve never obtained. It continues to explore this theme when they finally reach their destination and Jamie is only fixated on creating the brew to get high. Meanwhile, Crystal Fairy is more concerned with taking in the mesmerizing scenery and getting to know the bilingual brothers better. What transpires next is where Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus earns its praises, as it becomes a psychology lesson of sorts through the emotionally gripping bond they all begin to form. Up to this point, the characters have shown conflicting pros and cons, but their true colors shine through as the drug begins to kick in and they lower their inhibitions.
What you discover is a message that rings loud and clear but is so often ignored: you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Jamie starts to realize when Crystal Fairy wanders off in a stupor that she’s grown on him and perhaps it’s not her, but him who is out of touch. As reality twists in a panic attack he quickly comes down and realizes that he needs to forgo prejudices by opening up to what really matters in this world. This epiphany hits even harder after finding some beautiful drawings Crystal Fairy has done of all of them on their travels. In a surprising move, the film throws at you an extremely tearjerking confession of a traumatic experience from Crystal Fairy, as they’re all reunited in a warm embrace around a sparkling campfire.
I absolutely love it when I happen upon a film like this where it leaves me wishing it would never end. And it’s wonderful to see a Sundance Film Festival offering that isn’t full of itself and can relate to varying audiences. If you’ve ever had any doubts about Michael Cera’s capabilities as an actor, or if you’re unfamiliar with Gaby Hoffmann, then this is a must to put on your watch list. The rest of the supporting cast are also equally brilliant, and each character adds to Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus’ story. It is hands-down my favorite film in a very long time and one I will continue to recommend to everyone looking for something fresh to enjoy.