Why you should care

For once, here’s a child star who grew up into a radiant revelation, in a sweet movie about the search for a psychedelic cactus.

To productively pass the midwinter limbo between best-of-the-year lists and award nominations, let us now praise Gaby Hoffmann’s great performance in 2013’s Crystal Fairy, now out on DVD.

Sebastián Silva’s disarming, confidently directed road movie stars Michael Cera as a bratty, substance-guzzling American tourist on a spontaneous pilgrimage for psychoactive Chilean cactus. But Hoffmann steals the show as his highly eccentric companion, an oft-nude hippie and hilariously antagonistic muse for the course of Cera’s journey. (Though it may sound like drug slang, Crystal Fairy is actually her character’s name.)

The movie is deceptively slight, with a narrative openness that’s very hard to pull off. Silva makes it look easy, though — maybe because, thanks to Cera and Hoffmann’s chemistry, it was. Their characters share a yearning for the wisdom of experience but wear very different masks over their common insecurities. She’s his ideal foil.

Part of why she’s such a revelation in Crystal Fairy is that we hadn’t seen her for a while; she more or less suspended her own career.

Where did Gaby Hoffmann come from? Her early years, the early ’80s, transpired in the Bohemian enclave of Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea. Her mother, Janet Hoffmann, was better known as Viva, the Warhol superstar who had Andy on the phone when he was shot. Gaby’s father, the late As the World Turns actor Anthony Herrera, was long estranged. Hoffmann lore has it that Gaby started acting to bring some extra money into the household. She was the cute kid in Field of Dreams, Uncle Buck and Sleepless in Seattle.

Given fate’s chronic unkindness to child stars (for context, the other cute kid in Uncle Buck was Macaulay Culkin), it seemed perspicacious for Hoffman to slow down, head off to college, drift a little and consider her options. Part of why she’s such a revelation in Crystal Fairy is that we hadn’t seen her for a while; she more or less suspended her own career. But mostly it’s just that she’s so marvelous in the role.

Silva’s film was originally called Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus. The title was probably shortened due to some complex marketing calculation, but it’s fitting to see an ostensible plot goal retrospectively deemed less important than one extraordinary, perfectly articulated character. Take a look, and see.

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