The comic drama “Krystal,” marking William H. Macy’s third time out as a feature director, is so baffling that it must be appreciated at least for its ability to defy all logic. Written by Will Aldis — as though he had gobbled up “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “The Good Girl,” and “Rushmore,” then gargled with bleach and regurgitated the mess on the page — the film tells the story of an 18-year-old boy with a heart that beats too fast (literally), who falls in love with a former junkie prostitute who’s trying to clean up her life.
Taylor Ogburn (Nick Robinson, “Love, Simon”) is a fanciful guy who’s been known to cross signals and get lost in his daydreams, as evidenced in a flashback where he reads one of his dad’s porno mags and imagines the devil walking out of its pages, attempting to chase Taylor down. The animation of the devil here must be singled out for its vision. It had me hoping “Krystal” might become a surrealist tale. But it didn’t.
Yes, the appearance of the devil and Taylor’s horrified reaction to him signals the guilt is strong in this one. And despite his father Wyatt (Macy) informing Taylor when he was a child that God, the devil, and Santa Claus do not exist, Taylor insists on believing in fictions and fairy tales as a young adult, which further fuels his anxiety, as he’s incessantly striving to do what’s “right.”
When Taylor sees Krystal (Rosario Dawson) walk in from the ocean — in just a wet white t-shirt (no bra) and panties — he’s so struck by her beauty that he nearly dies. Literally. That Taylor develops an unshakeable crush on Krystal for saving his life and taking him to the hospital seems natural. She’s beautiful, a blank slate, a savior in his naïve eyes. But everything that follows this improbable meeting grows so absurd that I had to pause the screener I was watching, go back, and make sure I’d seen what I thought I’d seen, which is, in some ways, admirable that this narrative could keep me guessing so much.
Taylor goes to extreme lengths to woo Krystal immediately, and with every attempt, hijinks ensue: He pretends he’s an alcoholic to infiltrate an AA meeting, and his boss (Kathy Bates) asks to be his sponsor. He sees a biker guy, Bo (Rick Fox), in a leather jacket at the AA meeting deliver a speech about being down and out and rising above it all, and Taylor becomes him, even buying a motorcycle and using Bo’s speech word-for-word to impress Krystal, like he’s Wally Brando or something. (Shout-out to “Twin Peaks: The Return” fans.)
Macy’s strengths with this film lay in the scenes that play out like a stage production of a classic farce, generally when Taylor, his mom (Felicity Huffman) and dad, and his brother Campbell (Grant Gustin, “The Flash”) trade banter in their quaint, suburban home. Characters speak over one another, jostling for their own screen time, while Macy blocks the scene with each family member moving round the room, creating some much-needed dynamic action.
And the only time we get a hint that director Macy understands that Taylor’s newfound identities are truly dumbfounding is when this family razzes him endlessly about his puppy love. It had me wishing the whole film were just a single-location encounter of the family meeting Krystal and her 16-year-old son Bobby (Jacob Latimore) for dinner.
We do get that scene later on, and it’s appropriately bonkers, with some big reveals and a chance for Huffman to yelp curse words and quickly apologize for the language, but Macy leaves that drama too quickly, focusing for some reason on auxiliary characters, like William Fichtner’s Dr. Farley, a pot-smoking incompetent physician who always seems to be available to treat Taylor — for both his heart condition and a stab wound inflicted by Krystal’s ex Willie (T.I.).
And while Krystal is the title character, she’s also the least understood of them all, which could potentially have made the film funnier if Macy called more attention to the fact that all of these people are projecting their own thoughts, feelings, and fantasies upon one of the few non-white women in this Southern town. But instead, Macy has Krystal giving in to Taylor’s unfounded affections, with a moment so bizarre that my jaw dropped in a mix of surprise and nausea. “If you don’t kiss me right now,” begins Krystal’s sudden sexual declaration to Taylor as she’s peeking out the window, keeping watch for her violent, controlling ex.
Not to oversell this film or endorse it, but I can imagine John Waters watching “Krystal,” vacillating between boredom and banal amusement, remarking, “Oh well, that’s something.” Because Krystal is definitely… something.