Writing a movie review of Krystal is a bafflingly difficult endeavor, not least of all because one first has to attempt to figure out if it’s a movie at all.
Krystal feels like the result of an elaborate blunder wherein three different scripts were accidentally shuffled together and then — presumably through a series of hijinks — the director accidentally shot it all straight through. It’s the “Friends episode where Rachel makes trifle with beef because her cookbook pages are stuck” of movies. If someone were to whisper that director William H. Macy made it as a tax write-off, I would instantly believe them.
Here is the premise: 18-year-old Taylor (Love, Simon’s Nick Robinson) has a heart condition called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, which means he has to avoid all excitement or risk his heart overexerting itself. The obvious metaphor pumps to life when Taylor meets a woman named Krystal (Rosario Dawson) on the beach asking him for a ride, or a phone to call an Uber. Taylor has a P.A.T. attack and Krystal, who turns out to be a former stripper-junkie-alcoholic-prostitute, drives him to the hospital (turns out she didn’t need a ride after all, I guess?), where she then faints when she sees needles. Motivated by his love for Krystal and his desire to impress her, Taylor adopts a leather-jacketed bad-boy persona and pretends to be an alcoholic so he can stalk her at A.A. meetings.
Some other elements of this movie worth discussing: Krystal has a son in a wheelchair only two years younger than Taylor, whom Taylor befriends; the rapper T.I. plays Krystal’s abusive ex-boyfriend; Taylor is haunted by hallucinations of the devil, who has the face of the man who killed his dog in a hit-and-run; Kathy Bates plays the owner of the gallery where Taylor works, and her character has terminal cancer. And because all this takes place in Georgia, approximately 40% of the cast are using truly mystifying Southern accents.
The creepiness of an 18-year-old pursuing and ultimately wooing a grown woman is never addressed — it is only ever painted as adorably winsome, underscored by a jangly banjo soundtrack. Things like addiction, sex work, and violently abusive ex-boyfriends — elements a lesser director might categorize as “serious” or “worth dealing with respectfully” — are played for broad comedy. When Krystal’s ex threatens Taylor’s family at knifepoint, the scene ends with a Three Stooges-vibe accidental toe dismemberment. Occasionally, William Fichtner pops up as a swearing, drugged-out doctor from a different movie.
Macy costars as Taylor’s dad, with his real-life wife, Felicity Huffman, as Taylor’s mom, and The Flash star Grant Gustin as his brother, who also happens to be a painter. Presumably at one point, this movie had been about art, but who can really say? There’s an equal chance that this movie was supposed to be about religion (Macy’s character is a religious studies professor, plus there’s all that devil stuff). Unfortunately, someone decided it was also supposed to be the world’s least-believable romance. And, you know, a cancer movie.
Astonishingly, everyone in the cast is a delight, which makes the movie even more confusing. The cognitive dissonance of charming performances in the fabric of a tonally inexplicable but scene-to-scene enjoyable film is something one must experience firsthand in order to understand. I’m tempted to recommend this movie to everyone just so I can be certain it wasn’t a strange dream I had after seeing Love, Simon and then falling asleep to Kacey Musgraves music. C+