William H. Macy’s Krystal can be read in two ways. First, as a fairy tale of sorts wherein a virginal young man named Taylor (Nick Robinson), suffering from debilitating heart palpitations, latches onto a much older woman (Rosario Dawson) and develops a complicated love affair in which both learn something about their fractured foundations in life.
The second is a more literal approach, in which a virginal young man suffering from debilitating heart palpitations latches onto a much older woman and both learn something about their foundations in life.
The fact one can come away with either reading of the film is a bit unfortunate. It’s an effort that zigzags between broad comedy and maudlin soul-searching with very little sense of a unified tone. And although Krystal desperately wants to be a precocious and spunky little romance — beginning with each character’s strong Southern drawl, spoken allusions to William Faulkner and the main character’s incessant voice over that plods along like someone reading from said Faulkner novel — Macy’s third film as a director is more likely to appease fans of Rosario Dawson and Nick Robinson than invite a new audience to his slight and slim filmography so far.
When we first meet Taylor (Robinson), he’s narrating about the formation of his medical condition that flares up whenever he’s stressed or overexcited. In telling the story, which usually ends up caused by a recurring devil figure that pops up throughout the film, Taylor glances up from his comfortable position on the beach and sees an attractive older woman (Dawson) asking him for directions. Falling in love at first sight, Taylor naturally collapses, leaving the distraught woman to rush him to a hospital.
It’s then that Taylor begins loosely stalking this woman, who he learns is named Krystal. Enrolling in Alcoholics Anonymous just to be near her, Taylor learns of her checkered past. Initially, Krystal fends off his advancements, which usually sound like flowery prose about his current age of 18 being no problem for his ability to ward off any future bad things in her life. It sounds weird, and only gets weirder when Krystal reluctantly introduces him to her 16-year-old wheelchair bound son (Jacob Latimore) and the two strike up their own unique relationship.
Also tearing away at their impending relationship is Krystal’s live-wire ex boyfriend Willie (musician T.I.), who flashes a knife anytime things get heated. There are tangents with Kathy Bates as Taylor’s good ol’ girl boss and William H. Macy himself in the role as the father whose squeaky clean facade of wholesome parenthood isn’t quite so clean. There are so many tangents clamoring to be heard, that none come together too well.
But all of that would be forgivable if the central May-December romance between Dawson and Robinson were convincing. Thinking of the best stories that unite disparate ages under the blanket of affection or love, like last year’s Columbus or Hal Ashby’s eccentrically respected Harold and Maude (1971), the key is in the writing that carefully and genuinely builds up a repartee between its couple.
Based on a script by Will Aldis, Krystal relies on the (expected) sweetness of Taylor and the impetuous nature of Krystal to be the glue that seals their relationship. Instead of building up carefully, it forces the couple to smash together just because the words on the page require them to do so. In the words of Taylor himself during one scene with Kathy Bates, he responds to her question with the line: “Is it okay if I lie now and tell you the truth later?” Essentially, Krystal is a jagged comedy that doesn’t quite ever tell us the truth.
Krystal opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, April 13 at the AMC Grapevine 30, AMC Stonebriar 24 and AMC Mesquite Dine-In 30.