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Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012

July 26, 2013
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus

Does the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope actually require the male protagonist to like the kooky, offbeat female character in question? In pretty much all the standard examples — including the best attempt yet to defuse and deconstruct the concept, Ruby Sparks — the interaction between the two characters takes the form of a romantic relationship. In Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012, on the other hand, he spends most of the film loathing her. Yet all the other hallmarks are there: she’s “quirky” in an easily-shorthanded way; she has no real character development of her own; she exists primarily for him to learn and grow, or at least attempt to. And like most Manic Pixie movies, the result is tedious, emotionally childish, and not nearly as deep as it thinks it is.

“Crystal Fairy” is the nom de voyage of the free-spirit in question (Gaby Hoffman). The protagonist, Jamie (Michael Cera), meets her at a house party in Chile while pretty high on Chilean cocaine and marijuana, about both of which he has Opinions. In his party stupor, he gives her his mobile number and suggests she join him and his three local friends, Champa, Lel, and Pilo (Juan Andrés, José Miguel, and Augustín Silva) on their road trip to find the mescaline-bearing San Pedro cactus and consume it on the beach. And Crystal Fairy is just kooky enough to take him up on the offer.

Of course once Jamie is sober and Crystal actually shows up he’s a lot less keen on the idea. Away from a loud, late-night party her overweening enthusiasm comes off as grating. Worse, she is — gasp! — unattractive. I may not go for the hirsute look myself, but I know plenty of women who find it works for them, and respecting them as people means respecting their own choices about their own appearances. Body-shaming Crystal’s unshaven armpits is the sort of misogynistic gag I’d expect from an Adam Sandler production, and a major clue that writer/director Sebastián Silva doesn’t really want us to like her any more than Jamie does.

Very little of Crystal’s character rings true; she’s an amalgam of aimless hippy-dippy stereotypes that only begins with the body hair. She rambles on about positive energy and crystal powers — for which she garners ridicule — and yet when Jamie does something truly morally questionable she’s enthusiastically supportive. Why? because maintaining her attitude towards him is more important to the script than any self-consistency on her part. Even when we do get some of her incoherent backstory it’s shoehorned in at the end, and used mostly as a heavy-handed way to steer Jamie’s lesson-learning.

And as for Jamie, I know that this — like his cameo in This Is the End — is supposed to be part of Cera’s efforts to break type, but it’s really nothing of the sort. Yes, he’s a selfish jerk here, but that’s pretty much the natural evolution of the indie-rock Nice Guy™ persona anyway. The only difference is that this version of the character wears his self-important preening on the outside. I’m not exactly convinced by his drug-induced breakthrough either.

I appreciate the no-frills, ultra-indie, DIY impulse that goes into making a movie like Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012, but youthful enthusiasm just can’t make up for a trite story, told sloppily, populated by cardboard cutout characters.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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