Film Review: Krystal

A talented cast in top form can't salvage this Southern Gothic serio-comedy.
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Taylor Ogburn (Nick Robinson of Love, Simon) is an 18-year-old in a small Georgia town, who suffers from both paroxysmal atrial tachycardia and terminal voiceover syndrome. PAT, as he explains at length while staring out at the ocean, is a condition that can cause his heart to beat too rapidly, sometimes at over 200 beats per minute, potentially fatally. So when he falls for a beautiful older woman (Rosario Dawson), he risks not only a figurative broken heart but a literal one. Between his PAT and the May-December, or perhaps March-August, romance, the melodrama quotient is already as high as some of the people here—did we mention the older woman is a not-entirely-recovering addict? And that she has a 16-year-old paraplegic tough-guy son? Add in the syrupy language that flows from moony, hyper-articulate Taylor and his intensely creative, intellectual family, and Krystal dissolves like soap into opera.

This sitcom Faulkner can at least claim a talented cast in excellent form, doing likely the best anyone can do with unintentional camp. As the titular former stripper-hooker-heroin addict, Dawson centers the swirling eccentricities with grace and practicality, but many times it's hard to tell from her expression if it's her character or Dawson herself who can't believe she's hearing the stuff Taylor spouts.

Shot in 24 days in April and May 2016 on a roughly $3 million budget, Krystal—written by crime-movie specialist Will Aldis and directed without vision or even much technical expertise by the rightly acclaimed actor William H. Macy, helming his third theatrical feature—is problematic at its core: the relationship between naïve Taylor and the remarkably not-strung-out-looking ex-junkie of his dreams. We're meant to believe this non-worldly teenager when he insists to his artist brother Campbell (Grant Gustin), his poet mother Poppy (Felicity Huffman, Macy's wife) and his academic father Wyatt (Macy)—an author and comparative-religion professor at Atlanta's Emory University—that what's clearly a puppy-dog crush is the real thing and that she's The One.

Their meet-cute was almost dead-meat-cute, in a scene emblematic of the film's storytelling flaws. Walking up to him on a beach, wearing little more than a wet t-shirt, Krystal sets Taylor's heart racing when she asks if he has a phone she can use to call a car service. He collapses, and next thing we know, she's racing him to the hospital in a car—his? Did she rifle through his pockets for keys? Did she drag his prostrate form across the sand to the parking lot? Did he not have a phone from which she could have called 911? And what woman goes to the beach without a cellphone or a ride home and has to hit up strange men for transportation? How is there even an ocean beach if Prof. Ogburn teaches at the far-inland Emory? (The movie was shot primarily in McDonough, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.)

Taylor recovers, little thanks to a comic-relief doctor (the great character actor William Fichtner, doing his best), and returns to work at an art gallery run by Vera (Kathy Bates), a greying belle with rock-solid sense. Sometime later, in rom-com stalker fashion, Taylor follows Krystal into what turns out to be an AA meeting. Vera's there, too, and his protestations that he's not an alcoholic rightly sounds like denial to her. So, he figures, why not pretend to be an alcoholic in order to keep seeing Krystal?

The rest of the film bears just as little relation to recognizable human behavior, and its view of sexual psychology is regressively simple-minded: Girls marry Good Guys, but fall in love with Bad Boys. Doubling down on this, we get an AA meeting where, accompanied by slashing guitar chords, bad-boy Bo (Rick Fox) struts in, all black-leather jacket and chaps. Macy's ridiculous direction captures two wide-eyed young women gazing up at him in awe, seemingly ready to orgasm, and even old Vera is stunned and murmuring, "My, my…!" Tripling down on this, we have Taylor deciding to emulate Bo. He buys a motorcycle, starts dressing in black, pretends to smoke and uses Bo's AA speech as pickup lines with Krystal.

Complicating matters further is Krystal's acerbic, wheelchair-bound son Bobby (Jacob Latimore) and her violent ex-boyfriend Willie (Tip "T.I." Harris). Oh, and there's a Joker-looking Satan (George Faughnan) that only Taylor and Willie can see. Throughout, the tone shifts awkwardly from Nicholas Sparks to bloody violence to Southern Gothic Wacky. And after a fade-to-black for a sexual interlude, we fade back in to—I kid you not—a clock tower thrusting into the sky and a spurting geyser in a park's pond! Maybe the whole thing is really a satiric comedy and we just didn't get it.

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