William H. Macy is one of the best actors of his generation, having worked with some of the finest storytellers of our time. With his impressive resumé in front of the camera, one might think that Macy had picked up various tools of the trade to employ behind the camera. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with William H. Macy’s third film as a director, Krystal. This movie is nothing short of a tonal disaster, weaving between drama focused on addiction with broad comedy that never jibes into anything compelling.
Taylor (Nick Robinson) is a young man with a heart condition that has placed him near death since youth. Krystal opens with Taylor’s voiceover recalling his youthful close encounters with death and each of these two scenes epitomize the scattered tone of the film. The first moment Taylor noticed his heart problem was when he witnessed the death of his dog as a young boy. Macy’s camera fixates on the poor pooch lying in the road, and it’s the first instance where you begin to question the judgement of the actor-turned-director. The second heart-related incident is when the young boy is looking at a porno mag in the attic and a cartoon of the devil comes to life, springing forth his heart palpitations and establishing the film’s recurring nonsense involving Taylor’s visions of Satan come to life. All of this, mind you, happens within the first couple minutes of the film and never at any point does it get better.
While lying on the beach, Taylor crosses paths with Krystal (Rosario Dawson), who asks him if he has a car. Stunned by her beauty, Taylor begins to have another episode involving his heart and Krystal rushes the ailing young man to the hospital where he’s treated by Dr. Farley (William Fitcher), who is simply a comically inept doctor burned out on life and a character that could easily be left on the cutting room floor. Having survived this episode, Taylor becomes infatuated with Krystal, an ex-stripper and recovering addict, and starts to stalk her in a way that the movie thinks is kind of cute despite the fact that it’s undeniably creepy. Taylor poses as an alcoholic and attends the same Alcoholic Anonymous meetings as Krystal. Taylor’s boss Vera (Kathy Bates) accompanying the love struck young man because she hopes the he finds love despite his unscrupulous methods or something.
Krystal is unimpressed with Taylor’s attempts to woo her. This inspires Taylor to adopt a persona based upon Bo (Rick Fox), a biker who speaks at an AA meeting that Krystal is absent from. Taylor’s deceit and persistence pays off and eventually he finds himself spending time with her, eventually befriending her teenage son Bobby (Jacob Latimore) and finding himself the target of her violent jealous ex Willie (T.I.). Despite these varying complications, Taylor finds himself rewarded time and time again with his dishonest behavior, eventually bedding the woman of his dreams.
Macy’s film tries to hit dramatic beats about Krystal’s past or the abusive relationship she was a part of only to undermine each of these moments with wacky comedic beats that are more jarring the funny. This is further complicated by Taylor’s family. William H. Macy and his wife Felicity Huffman play Taylor’s parents, and some late story revelations show the fissure in their relationship. Then there’s Taylor’s brother Campbell (Grant Gustin), an artist and stoner. A family gather where they are introduced to Krystal turns into chaos but Macy can’t settle on a tone for this scene so it tries to be a dramatic low point while also playing for yuks. I’d be curious to see the original script by Will Aldis to see if the written page suffered from the same tonal inconsistencies that plague Macy’s film and amplified by his static, lackluster direction.
Krystal is a movie that is overflowing with bewildering decisions, from its bizarre tonal shifts to its complete disinterest in the moral implications of its characters’ actions. It’s heartbreaking to see William H. Macy use his reputation to assemble an impressive cast for such complete dreck. Rosario Dawson, who is capable of performing drama and comedy equally, is left adrift in a movie that wants use her as an object of desire and morally chide her character for even thinking of returning to stripping. Jacob Latimore plays a wheelchair-bound teen whose disability is used for some goofy hijinks that are in incredibly poor taste. Nick Robinson, Macy, Huffman, and Gustin are saddled with unconvincing Southern accents that wouldn’t seem out of place in some low rent sketch comedy troupe. The absurd performance by Robinson is real step backwards after his breakout role in Love, Simon.
All of the failings of Krystal could be forgiven if the film was the least bit funny or if its drama was genuinely affecting, but the film is able to achieve neither. This film is such an astounding disaster that it can only be recommended as some sort of bizarre curiosity. William H. Macy is such a force in front of the camera, a talented and versatile actor. Behind the camera, Macy seems completely lost, as if his illustrious career in the movies never existed. Krystal is vivid proof that not all great actors can, or should, direct.