Michael Cera Outshined By Gaby Hoffmann in “Crystal Fairy”

by Darcy Sturges

Director Sebastián Silva, best known for his film The Maid, has created the next manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) film. If you’re not familiar with the manic pixie dream girl trope, watch Feminist Frequency’s video. In short, the MPDG is a female character whose sole purpose is to teach an uptight male protagonist to let loose and enjoy life.

Beyond that purpose, however, the MPDG seems to have no life of her own. Often the audience knows nothing of her desires, her dreams, and her goals. She may be an interesting character (which is definitely the case in Crystal Fairy), but she her main purpose is to be a catalyst for the protagonist’s change.

The film sees Michael Cera star as Jaime, a young American touring South America to experience its drug culture. It begins with Jaime having his share of weed and cocaine. After an awkward toilet shot (we see a turd circling; perhaps it’s symbolic), Jaime wanders to the dance floor. Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffmann, is dancing with great abandon.

“I’m gonna try to save her. She needs it,” Jaime says, and interrupts her dancing to tell her that she’s embarrassing herself. Somehow their conversation keeps going and Jaime drunkenly invites Crystal to join him and his friends on their journey to find the San Pedro cactus, which, when boiled down, creates a strong hallucinogenic beverage. In true MPDG fashion she agrees and the next day, three brothers (played wonderfully by Silva’s sons Agustín, José Miguel, and Juan Andrés) and Jaime crowd into a van, pick up Crystal, and head towards the Chilean coast.

It’s unclear throughout the film what Jaime is looking for, if he is indeed looking for anything. As a character he’s not likable; perhaps a good step for Cera, who usually appears as awkwardly pitiable and implausibly charming – but in this film I wanted to smack some sense into him. He seems to hate Crystal and constantly tries to get the brothers to abandon her. Literally, and many times! Throughout the film the barrage of negativity towards Crystal took Jaime from being an annoying douchebag to being downright misogynistic. Luckily, the brothers are decent guys—not enough to completely counteract Jaime’s immature bullshit, but enough so I didn’t just walk out (yeah, it got that bad). 

It was refreshing, however, to see a female character so genuine and honest in her actions and her appearance. Crystal is not a typical Hollywood hippie: she doesn’t wear makeup or pluck her eyebrows or shave her armpits or wax her bikini line. In several scenes she is fully naked without shame or modesty, and her body isn’t the typical tanned, toned form we’ve come to expect in film (thank goodness). While the brothers accept Crystal in her various states of undress (and they aren’t creepers about it), Jaime takes to calling her “Crystal Hairy,” and behaves like a juvenile, immature dickwad who has never seen an actual woman’s figure.  Perhaps Silva wanted to make Crystal seem as odd and out there as possible to help us understand why Jaime can’t stand her. That fails because of Hoffmann created a real, engaging, and lovable character. While Crystal does indeed have moments that are ridiculous and get on one’s nerves (she is not very self-aware), she is so genuine in her desires and her interactions that I wanted to know more of her story. Sadly, that’s not how the MPDG trope works; one is left wondering what Crystal gained from the entire experience, where she’ll be going, and why she was in Chile in the first place. Jaime, on the other hand, was able to have a minute of catharsis as Crystal tells a traumatic story, and afterward it seems he can stand Crystal a tiny bit–whether he’s still high on San Pedro isn’t clear.

Hopefully in the future Hoffmann won’t be in a film that blatantly fails the Bechdel test—perhaps she’ll appear on a show like Orange is the New Black. She is a great talent and perhaps the only reason to see Crystal Fairy.

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