Directed by William H. Macy.
Starring Nick Robinson, Rosario Dawson, Jacob Latimore, T.I., William H. Macy, Grant Gustin, Felicity Huffman, William Fichtner, Rick Fox, Amy Parrish, and Kathy Bates.
A young man living a sheltered life develops a crush on a stripper and joins her Alcoholics Anonymous group just so he can be in the same room with her.
No joke, reading the synopsis alone for Krystal is, so far, one of the most overwhelming film-related things I’ve done all year. After noticing that the director is highly talented and reliable character actor William H. Macy (Fargo, Shameless) it all begins to click; Krystal (written by Will Aldis) is the kind of loony material that wouldn’t be out of place on Shameless, which of course Macy stars in with the show still running strong. Additionally, Macy has begun to direct occasional episodes, so it’s not necessarily surprising that his most recent work behind the camera emulates that madcap, go for broke, dysfunctional family chaos.
However, as previously mentioned, there is a lot here stuffed into 90 minutes including everything from rare heart conditions that function more as a contrived plot device than anything grounded in realism or something meaningful to the narrative, a recovering drug addict ex-stripper (Rosario Dawson in a thankless empty role despite being the titular Krystal) tending to her paraplegic 16-year-old son (Jacob Latimore) when not in Alcoholics Anonymous, and Macy himself as the head of an artistically inclined household containing drinking and drugs. Oh, and Kathy Bates pops in as an art gallery owner with terminal cancer. But wait, there’s more! Rapper/actor T.I. plays a stereotypical urban criminal also fixated on romantically being with Krystal because she will always take him back no matter what, even if he is hallucinating horrendously rendered smiling demons as a result of hard drugs or something. Who knows, there is far too much going on to keep track of it all. Hell, I just remembered another character; William Fichtner is a doctor overseeing all of these crazy people whenever they stumble into the hospital, also going through a midlife crisis of his own usually rambling about his own problems.
While the film is called Krystal, the story is far from concerned with her as a character. Instead, she’s the object of affection for Taylor (played by Nick Robinson serviceably pulling off a Southern drawl, who can also be seen currently in theaters in the charming mainstream gay romantic comedy Love, Simon), with his only reason for falling in love apparently being her beauty (the pair first meet on the beach with Krystal wearing such loosely revealing clothing that she might as well have been naked). Taylor’s unpredictable heart undergoes palpitations whenever stressful situations arise, but as stated before, the script only allows that to happen for the sake of convenience. How can Taylor need a hospital just from initially gazing at Krystal but remain perfectly fine during some physical encounters or chases hopping a ride on a motorized wheelchair (yes, that’s an actual scene in the movie, but to be fair also one of the few outlandish sequences that are fun)?
A more alarming problem is that the script never fully condemns Taylor for ditching his true self to find love, as he takes on a biker persona while indulging in a little drinking (how does this not also give him heart problems?) to better fit in at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It is absolutely understandable that someone could fall for a person with a troubled history of substance abuse, but the cluttered story with numerous side characters make it increasingly difficult to buy into the central brewing romance. It also doesn’t help that Macy seems determined to strip away whatever emotion is present in the script (if there is any at all) in favor of having fun with this, which is fine, but it goes comically over-the-top and loses the audience. Even the antagonist, a life-ruining gangster is reduced to a one-note joke during the climax.
Admittedly, there are a few worthwhile throughlines regarding the importance of helping each other out, a message that goes beyond substance abuse and into disabilities, moral support, and family togetherness. As a disabled person, I also have to point out that some thought was put into portraying a disabled character realistically in the modern world, like the subtle touch of switching to non-motorized wheelchairs for certain public places as there is no way those 1000+ pounds of metal are being lifted up even a few steps.
Shamefully, all of this goes to waste on disastrous character work that makes light of every serious situation to an off-putting degree. The key for Shameless is its episodic nature that allows personalities to be defined, building to the craziness. Here, Macy is giving audiences all sorts of wild behavior and inexplicable motivations without context. Krystal deserves more than a better man, she deserves to be in a stronger effort more willing to give her some characterization.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com