Teen girl romance gets an update in modern but lightweight Crush
Teen comedies tend to fall in one of two categories: They’re either sweet, relatively wholesome stories about finding oneself or discovering love for the first time, or they’re ones that push the limit when it comes to sex, drugs, alcohol, and other things that teens are not “supposed” to do.
The new Hulu film Crush tries to split the difference, with varying degrees of success. Paige (Rowan Blanchard) is an aspiring high school artist with dreams of going to Cal Arts. She long ago came out to her ultra-supportive single mother (Megan Mulally), who’s perhaps a bit too supportive, having all sorts of frank sexual discussions with and around Paige.
Paige has long held a crush on her classmate, Gabriella (Isabella Ferreira), although she can barely form a sentence around her. That changes when Paige decides on the spur of the moment to try out for the school track team despite being supremely awkward. But instead of being paired with Gabriella as she hoped, the coach has Gabriella’s sister, AJ (Auli’i Cravalho), mentor her instead.
The film, directed by Sammi Cohen and written by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham, features a by-the-numbers story despite featuring multiple gay/queer characters. Who Paige will end up falling for couldn’t be clearer than if they had put the person’s name in flashing red lights on the screen. The only difference is that the love triangle involves three girls instead of the typical heterosexual pairings.
The film is not without its charms, though. One side plot involves Paige’s best friend Dillon (Tyler Alvarez) and his girlfriend Stacey (Teala Dunn), who are running against each for school president. Their friendly-but-competitive banter about the election and their insatiable lust for each other make for some of the funniest parts of the movie.
Other parts are underexplored. The school has been the target of multiple graffiti works by a person who goes by “King Pun,” with many, including administrators, thinking it’s Paige. Paige resolves to find the real culprit, but her search is waylaid by a number of things, and by the time the actual King Pun is revealed, it’s both obvious and underwhelming.
The filmmakers fill the movie with lots of explicit sexual jokes, profanity, drugs, and alcohol, making it a hard R – or TV-MA, since it’s on Hulu. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that, but it’s kind of an odd choice since the movie is otherwise a light high school comedy with a lead character whose personality doesn’t match the lewdness.
Blanchard is a rising star who’s had parts in TV shows like Girl Meets World, The Goldbergs, and Snowpiercer, and she does decently well here. Her role is mostly one-note, though, something a better teen movie would have remedied. Cravalho, who voiced the titular role of Moana, is arguably the best known of the young stars, and she has a brightness about her that shines through. Ferreira, Alvarez, and Dunn make the most of their respective parts, and deserve to be seen more as well.
While Crush doesn’t rise above the status of “pleasant distraction,” it’s great that it features gay characters who live in a world free from any obvious stress about having to come out or deal with homophobia. The story surrounding them may not be great, but the representation and sentiment about how the world should be definitely is.
Crush debuts on Hulu on April 29.