By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 18, 2013 at 11:32AM
Critics are weighing in from Park City on Sebastián Silva's 'Crystal Fairy & the Magic Cactus and 2012,' starring Michael Cera, one of three Sundance Fest opening night offerings. The effectiveness of Cera's casting is up for debate -- some reviewers find it a refreshing shake-up from the young actor's usual "nice-guy routine," while others claim it clashes with Silva's comedic leanings. Review roundup below.
Watching a bunch of people take a drug trip is seldom either entertaining or edifying, but Chilean director Sebastian Silva manages to make it at least tolerably amusing in the aptly titled ‘Crystal Fairy & the Magic Cactus and 2012.’ More a long anecdote than a deeply worked-out story… Rooted in an experience Silva had a decade back, this largely improvised, vigorously filmed odyssey hinges on five acquaintances who, at a drug-fueled party in Santiago, decide to travel north to find the legendary San Pedro cactus that yields the mescaline celebrated by Aldous Huxley in 'The Doors of Perception.'
The comedic stylings of Chilean director Sebastián Silva and Michael Cera couldn't have less in common. Silva… probes the shadowy regions of domestic life and elevates them to absurd heights. For Cera, whose understated delivery has been ingrained in American pop culture since the advent of "Arrested Development," every aside comes across like a punchline. Silva unearths humor where appearances would suggest none exist; Cera always seems on the brink of delivering a neurotic joke… While sometimes quite funny, the movie ultimately features a losing battle between two distinct narrative impulses, both intermittently engaging but together at odds with each other.
I initially hated the Michael Cera slacker comedy 'Crystal Fairy' and very nearly joined the steady stream of walkouts, but something kept me in my seat, possibly my amazement at how repellent Cera is willing to be. The film pulls a U-turn in the last act, though, which forced me to reevaluate the whole story.
Cera's nice guy routine has quickly begun to wear thin, and taking on a few indies has given him the opportunity to show a bit more edge. That's certainly the case in Crystal Fairy, a psychedelic road trip "comedy" where Cera plays maybe his most despicable character yet... To say the film is an odd mix of styles is an understatement, shot guerrila-style on handheld cam and utilizing the minimalist, naturalistic style of many indie pictures… But at the same time it's loopy and random, dispensing a weird coming-of-age tale that Silva keeps hidden until you've nearly given up hope there was ever any meaning to it all.