The heart what the heart wants, even if the heart starts beating 200 times a minute. Taylor Ogburn has suffered from said heart condition since he was 7, keeping his young life as uncomplicated and as stress-free as possible. One look at Krystal, however, and Taylor knows he’s in love. Triggering his condition is just a risk he’ll have to take.
Screenwriter Will Aldis hasn’t made it easy for Taylor (Nick Robinson). Aside from the age difference between Taylor and Krystal (Rosario Dawson), she’s a recovering addict and former sex worker trying to keep her own life uncomplicated. At least, as uncomplicated as it can be — staying focused through AA and maintaining a job while being a single mother. And Taylor has his own challenges — only 18, surrounded by a southern artistic family, and not particularly sure of who he himself is. His attempts to reinvent himself, “painting” himself as a bad boy but not very well. Oh, and he is occasionally plagued by visions of Satan.
Directed by William H. Macy, who also plays Taylor’s troubled philosopher father, Krystal hits more than it misses, though it also hits a lot of improbable plot turns. A Southern Gothic comedy, though brightly lit, it’s Taylor’s brother Campbell (Grant Gustin) who accidentally hits the nail on the head — the dialogue often sounds like a (truncated) William Faulkner novel.
What carries it are actors who can make something out of almost nothing. Some of the characters seem mere sketches, but the actors inhabit them fully. Opposite Macy, his real-life wife Felicity Huffman goes toe-to-toe as his screen wife Poppy, a poet with delusions of sobriety. And Gustin runs far from his TV role as the Flash; his Campbell makes the most of every line, the member of the family closest to self-awareness from the beginning. From time to time, the whole family seem to be in a Tennessee Williams play, which can be fun.
While telling a story about love, addiction, and overcoming fear, Krystal peppers the landscape with quirkiness. There’s Satan, of course, but there’s also Kathy Bates as Taylor’s art gallery boss, also a recovering alcoholic with life lessons to impart. Then William Fichtner wanders in and out of the story as Taylor’s only vaguely competent doctor; it’s hard to say if he’s over- or under-used.
That all said, there’s much to admire about the film. Macy is absolutely an actor’s director. It’s also a film reaching for resonance and often getting there. It’s the kind of film that gets done very well in the UK, usually in a small Irish or Scottish village, small town eccentrics stealing our hearts. When set in the American South, it’s a fine line to walk to keep it from turning grotesque. Macy keeps it all endearing.
He also gave Rosario Dawson a great role. Krystal is complicated, confused, and always unpredictable. But she also always owns the screen.
Krystal should see release in April, and you might find that it’s exactly the sort of movie your heart wants.