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‘Crush’ a charming teen romance

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I love a love story. Always have. And it doesn’t really matter who is falling in love or where; so long as the tale is well told, I am happy to come along on a romantic journey.

What has been particularly, well, lovely to see is the steady growth of LGBTQ+ love stories. More and more, these relationships and the people in them are getting to see themselves reflected in popular culture, whether it’s in movies, books or TV shows. And as that growth continues, we’re slowly approaching the point where these stories don’t have to be defined by the types of relationship at their center.

Take “Crush,” the new film currently streaming on Hulu. Directed by Sammi Cohen from a script by Kristin King and Casey Rackham, “Crush” is a sweet and slightly raucous high school rom-com. It is funny and thoughtful, driven by compelling characters brought to life by strong performances. It is about falling for someone and then falling for someone else and not knowing what to do, all through a lens of teenage self-consciousness. It’s about friends and friendship and the mistakes we make when in pursuit of what we want … or what we THINK we want.

And yes, many of the characters in this film identify as queer, but that isn’t what the movie is ABOUT. The story being told here is universal, the feelings felt by these characters are ones that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever been in love, been in high school or been in love WHILE being in high school.

Paige (Rowan Blanchard) is a high school student looking to find her way. She’s a budding artist, in the process of applying for a prestigious summer program at CalArts, but she’s struggling with the application process. She’s got a solid support system – her mom Angie (Megan Mullally) is always in her corner and sex-positive almost to a fault; her best friend Dillon (Tyler Alvarez) is with her through thick and thin.

But really, Paige’s biggest problem is her crush.

Paige has been enamored of Gaby (Isabella Ferreira) for years, but can never bring herself to make any sort of move. Gaby is popular and athletic and the whole shebang, while Paige is a bit of a weirdo – a well-liked weirdo, mind you, but a weirdo nevertheless. Whenever Gaby is nearby, Paige freezes up and babbles awkwardly.

In a misguided effort to get closer to Gaby, Paige winds up going out for the track team, which is co-captained by Gaby and Gaby’s twin sister A.J. (Auli’i Cravalho). The coach puts A.J. in charge of getting Paige up to speed, which leads to the two of them spending a lot of time together, which leads to their initially distant connection becoming fare closer.

It isn’t long before Paige finds herself wondering just who it is she has a crush on – and whether that person might just have a crush on her in return.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to a pair of subplots. There’s the student government presidential race, which features Dillon facing off against his girlfriend Stacey (Teala Dunn); theirs is a sweet and mutually supportive rivalry. There’s also a mystery graffiti tagger – Principal Collins (Michelle Buteau) thinks it’s Paige and so that’s a whole thing as well. Still, “Crush” is mostly about teenaged love.)

“Crush” is a delight. Now, I’m not here to say that this is some sort of paradigm-shifting work of art that redefines how we look at queer kids on screen. The truth is that I enjoyed this movie precisely because it wasn’t that. This is a film that is, in many ways, extraordinary in its ordinariness. It’s a goofy mainstream high school rom-com that just happens to have queer relationships at its center. That’s progress, people.

These are relationship dynamics that anyone who has ever been in high school will recognize, regardless of who is in said relationships. What “Crush” does particularly well is capture that feeling of enormity that comes from being a teenager, the idea that everything is of monumental import. These interactions feel like the alpha and omega of their lives, even if it’s just, you know, Tuesday.

The script from King and Rackham does a wonderful job of capturing that energy; even if it has been a minute since you roamed high school hallways, the underlying situations will 100% resonate with you. We all remember what it was like, and even as the world has changed, the interpersonal fundamentals of “what it was like” haven’t really changed all that much.

Now, “Crush” does get into the weeds a couple of times, usually when it tries to get a little edgier with some of its jokes. And it’s a bit predictable in more ways than one. But those moments are pretty few and far between. Instead, we get a breezy, gentle story of one girl’s search for love and for herself.

This movie falls flat without some great work by the actors; it’s a very good young cast. Blanchard charms as Paige, capturing the awkwardness that comes with an unrequited crush (and with being a teenager in general, to be honest). She brings a light, likeable energy to the screen that serves her very well. Cravalho and Ferreira are both good as individuals, with each finding some real depth of character, but there’s something particularly special in their interactions with Blanchard and with each other. Alvarez and Dunn are a consistent hoot. Mullally, Buteau and Aasif Mandvi (as the track coach) are all great picks to serve as the requisite adults – in and out, funny and engaging each time through.

I keep coming back to the descriptor “sweet” – this is an incredibly sweet movie. Even when it gets a bit coarse from time to time, that inherent sweetness remains. You can’t help but root for Paige, even as she missteps.

“Crush” is a quirky comedy reminding us of what high school romance is all about – awkwardness and confusion and general weirdness. It’s fun and frank and occasionally crass, all brought to life by a smart script and some strong performers. You might not fall in love with this movie, but you might well wind up with a bit of a crush.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 02 May 2022 07:41

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