Three and a half minutes into the new comedic drama, "Krystal," a prepubescent boy is thumbing through a pornographic magazine when an illustration of the Devil comes to life, tears himself off the page, and begins menacing the poor kid.
But brace yourself: Things are going to get even stranger.
That's what you get when you take a story about a mannerly Southern teen (Nick Robinson) with a rare heart condition who becomes infatuated with an alcoholic ex-hooker (Rosario Dawson) old enough to be his mother, throw in a stalker, an amputated toe, a souped-up wheelchair and that ol' Devil, then put it all in the directorial hands of a guy like William H. Macy — who loves a good offbeat farce.
"It's a weird plot," says the 68-year-old Macy, who has previously directed a couple of other quirky indie comedies and whose resume as an actor is filled with eccentric fare, from TV's "Shameless" and to the film version of "Fargo." "("Krystal") is just such a bizarre combination of things. It's a coming-of-age story, it's an AA story, an addiction story, it's got magical realism in it. It's a lot of plots all turning at once, but they come together deliciously, I think."
Though the film was shot entirely in Georgia (McDonough and Savannah) in 24 days on a shoestring budget of about $3 million, it managed to attract a formidable ensemble cast that — in addition to Robinson, Dawson and Macy — features Academy Award winner Kathy Bates, rapper Tip "T.I." Harris, former NBA star Rick Fox and Macy's wife Felicity Huffman.
Check out our full interview with the director, and by the end of it, you should be able to make a clear judgment about whether you'll want to seek out one of the three theaters in Charlotte that are rolling out "Krystal" on Friday.
Q. This seems like it was probably a directorial challenge, trying to get the tone of the thing just right, and balancing the comedy and the drama.
A. Yeah, we talked a lot about the tone of the piece ... because it's pretty wacky. But when you read the script (by Will Aldis), these scenes flow together just seamlessly, and it's fantastic. So I was caught a bit flat-footed when I put them on their feet and there was something missing. I was scrambling a little bit. The tone — of going from high farce to high tragedy, in such a short amount of time — was delicate. More delicate than I had given it credit for. It works, but it took some finesse.
Q. I heard that the movie took 14 years to get made, and it's interesting because in a lot of comedies nowadays you'll see lots of cellphones and characters texting each other, but I noticed this has none of that. So it felt sort of felt timeless to me.
A. It was written before digital took over our world ... but I also wanted to make it look vaguely nostalgic. I thought from the beginning that the comedy would be best-served — the farce, particularly — if it were in a slow, sleepy sort of an environment. A Southern environment.
Q. How do you think that having the South as the setting helped to inform the story you were trying to tell?
A. Well, one of the things that I found unusual and attractive about the film was Will's dialogue. It's very theatrical — as in, the theater. He writes speeches for people. Long speeches. Uncharacteristically long, for film. And we did cut them down a bit. But that sort of formal language and the fact that everybody's pretty smart in this thing, and really verbally dextrous — all the characters are — works better in that Southern setting. The Southern cadence is generally slower. ... It was a great choice on Will's part. And then finally, you know, people in the South are so polite. As my mama used to say, "She couldn't say s--- if she had a mouth full of it." People are polite and don't want to cause a ruckus. And I thought the outrageousness of this story would be best-served in that sort of environment. (Macy's family lived in the Atlanta area until he was about 9. His mother grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi.)
Q. I actually feel like "Krystal" is cut from the same cloth as "Shameless," in that sense — in its ability to swerve wildly back and forth between comedy and drama. Is there anything you've learned from eight seasons of "Shameless" that helped in directing "Krystal"?
A. I could imagine shooting this with Steadicams and Technocranes and making it beautiful and languid and smooth, but that wasn't a possibility with our budget. So I took a page out of the "Shameless" playbook. The best example is the dinner scene with the family, everyone talking at one time. The sound man was not as pleased about it, 'cause everyone's overlapping. But I thought that's the way to do it. And that's the way we shoot on "Shameless." It was a little more refined than we have time for in "Shameless," but it's the same idea.
Q. Frank Gallagher would actually fit right in at those AA meetings in the movie.
A. Yeah. I wanted to make sure we didn't make fun of AA, which saves people's lives, and has for many, many years. So we tried to do it truthfully and lovingly. But at the same time, they're very funny. ... And I think one of the things I like the most about the film is that even though it's about addiction, and it's about some weighty subjects, I feel like someone in the throes of addiction right now could look at this film and laugh — and not feel challenged, or shamed, or threatened. I mean, at the end of the day — and all credit to Will Aldis for this — I think what it says is, "Hey, I know you're terrified of life. Who isn't? But move on. Move on anyway. You've gotta keep moving."
Q. Do you think as a director you'll keep gravitating toward farce and broad comedy?
I do love comedy, and I think that's what I want to do these days. I want to laugh. I feel no matter what I do, there will be some comedy in it. And like I said, I love juxtaposing tragedy and comedy together. But I don't what I want to do next. I'm waiting to see if something comes up. ... We'll see. This is my third indie. I hate to say this: I might be too old for this game. I think I might need to raise the budget a little bit. Because I'm not an easy director. I take this very seriously, and it's easy for me to lose my humor. I've got to roll with the punches a little more. And I think with a bigger budget and a little bit slower schedule, I could do better. I'd love to pay the actors, too. ... All three films (Macy's other film directing credits are 2017's "The Layover" and 2014's "Rudderless"), everyone's been doing me a giant favor, and I'd love to pay people.
Q. And finally: How many more seasons of "Shameless" are we going to see?
I go back to work in about three weeks, for Season 9. Me, personally, I think there'll be a Season 10. I don't know that. But I'm down for 10. I love doing the show, and I can't wait to go back to work.
Q. Can Frank survive 10 seasons?
A. I think he's gonna survive, yeah. I don't know what (showrunner) John Wells has in mind. But I think Frank will outlive the cockroaches.