Opens Fri., July 26 at Varsity. Not rated. 98 minutes.
With Arrested Development back on the small screen, the selling point to Sebastián Silva’s Chilean road-trip movie is Michael Cera as the ugly doppelgänger of George Michael Bluth. His Jamie is a selfish, obnoxious visitor to a country he barely cares to understand. He’s only there for fun and drugs, with a particular obsession for the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus he and three Chilean brothers hope to use after a long desert drive to a remote beach. En route, the brothers—played by Silva’s younger brothers—soon tire of their garrulous fellow traveler, though they’re too polite to complain.
The bigger problem seems to be fifth-wheel hippie chick Crystal Fairy, as she calls herself, whom Jamie cruelly invites along so he can piss contempt on his gringa countrywoman and feel superior. To call Gaby Hoffmann’s performance here brave doesn’t go far enough. The former child actress (Uncle Buck, etc.) and daughter of Warhol starlet Viva, she creates an aura of unhinged New Age lunacy—like a musk you can smell in the theater. She’s an earnest, naive seeker who both embarrasses the guys with her proudly unshaven nudity and lectures them, mommy-style, about eating better and doing yoga. Still, just as cracks of decency show through Jamie’s truculent façade, Crystal Fairy lets slip certain clues that she’s also putting on an act. Forbidding the boys to buy junk food, she asks, “Do you know what’s going on with this sugar epidemic in America?” Later, in a covert moment, she guzzles Coke for breakfast.
Silva directed my favorite movie of 2009, The Maid, and he again shows a gift for the awkward comedy of silent resentments. The three brothers try to reserve judgment on the two chatty Yankees, though their sympathies—and ours—eventually slide toward Crystal Fairy. She may be nuts, but she has better manners than Jamie. (Again after This Is the End, Cera is too strenuously playing against Bluthian type; his Jamie annoys the audience as much as he does the brothers.) The Maid was a more focused work, all its pressures and class conflicts contained within a single household. Crystal Fairy is more of a ramble, with a tacked-on campfire catharsis. Still, its tone of squirming conflict is entirely genuine.