Despicable Him (When Fairy Met Jamie)

Sebastián Silva, NYC, 6/11/13

Sebastián Silva, NYC, 6/11/13

A seemingly free spirit (with a long-buried trauma and a secret career), Crystal Fairy (a pitch-perfect Gaby Hoffmann), the eponymous heroine of Sebastián Silva’s new film, flouts the very basics of societal requirements for feminine grooming.  Her underarms and legs are unshaved (hairy rhymes with fairy) and she eschews deodorant.  

Jamie (Michael Cera, funny, but not as usual), a horrendous, self-absorbed boor, a 21st century ugly American, is obsessed with an endless good time.

Both traveling in South America, they meet uncute at a sweaty house party in Santiago, Chile.  Jamie, drunk and coked up, spots Crystal dancing and simultaneously riveted and repulsed (he self-righteously insults her saying, “don’t you know you’re humiliating yourself?”), invites her to join him, his friend Champa and his two younger brothers, Lel and Pilo, (Silva’s real brothers) on a road trip north, into the Atacama Desert, departing the next day.

The trip is a pilgrimage to experience a legendary, mystical hallucinogen, derived from the San Pedro cactus.  In a small, dry town, they locate the large plant in several yards but the homeowners are unwilling to share or sell.  As the group talks to an old woman in her crowded living room, Jamie bolts, hacks off a large section of her cactus and flees back to their SUV.

They travel on, to an empty beach where the interior journey begins, taking them to where they find (what the hero of Peter Handke’s novel is looking for) “a moment of true feeling”–Jamie, able to see beyond himself, and Crystal, able to forgive herself.

I too must have imbibed some of the magic San Pedro elixir or maybe it’s Sebastián’s presto-change-o: my antipathy toward Jamie morphing into empathy as Crystal walks away from the beach.

“Crystal Fairy and The Magical Cactus and 2012” will open on Friday, July 12 in New York at the IFC Center and will also be available on demand.  Sebastián Silva and Michael Cera will participate in a Q&A on Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13 after the 7:20 pm show and will introduce the film on both days at the 9:35 pm show. 

The first time  I photographed Gaby Hoffmann, she was literally a babe in arms.  I was shooting stills of a scene that didn’t quite make it into “Paris, Texas”–what survived is a glimpse and a voice heard from the TV that Travis, in bathrobe and cowboy boots, is watching at Walt’s house.  The scene featured her mother, Viva, Warhol superstar, holding her child while polishing a star on Hollywood Boulevard.  I remember it as belonging to Tyrone Power.  Fast forward a couple of decades to our next shoot–Gaby with the other cast members of the play “Suburbia.”

Gaby Hoffmann (seated, second row, left) and the cast of "Suburbia"

Gaby Hoffmann (seated, second row, left) on the set of “Suburbia”

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