Film, 2022, 3.5 stars
Directed by: Sammi Cohen
Written by: Kirsten King and Casey Rackham
The world needs all kinds of stories. It needs realistic and dark stories, it needs fun shows that make us laugh and lift our spirits. It needs adventure, and romance, and fantasy, and SciFi. There’s so much “realistic” and grim television and film available for teenagers nowadays that every now and then when something wholesome and positive arrives it feels like a breath of fresh air. This is largely what took the world by storm with Heartstopper, and Crush follows in the same vein.
Crush imagines a world where you can love who you love and be who you are. Revolutionary, huh? The teenagers are self-aware, witty, engaging, and articulate to a frightening degree. In this school being gay is entirely fine, coming out is largely irrelevant, and pronouns are respected by other kids and staff. Everything is normal, which must scare the crap out of right wing evangelists who try to demonise the whole experience of being young.
Our heroine is Paige (Rowan Blanchard), an aspiring artist searching for her “happiest moment” which is the prompt for the work she needs to submit to get into the summer program at a prestigious art school. She’s had the “crush” on Gabby since fifth grade, and experiences adorable bouts of slow motion and music playing whenever she walks past. There to witness it all are her two best friends, Dillon and Stacey, a couple who stick their tongues down each other’s throats often, while competing against each other for class president.
Another artist is running rampant at the school, decorating walls and bathroom stalls with punny graffiti. They call themselves “King Pun” and everyone, including the principal and all Paige’s friends, think Paige is the culprit.
To save herself from unjust punishment that could stop her from getting into art school, she needs to figure out who the real King Pun is before the end of term. Also, she joins the track team to try and get close to Gabby, but due to her intense non-athleticism begins to be trained by Gabby’s twin sister AJ (Auli'i Cravalho). Sparks fly, and some classic teen obstacles ensue on the way to a poignant first kiss, and potential first love.
High School film tropes abound here. There’s the “we happen to be sharing a room with one bed” at the away track meet trope. Then there’s the “compulsory rager at a random mansion” trope (reminding me of every John Hughes film ever), only here kids drink too much, look out for each other, get driven home safely, and the worst they experience is a raging hangover.
We also have the “cool single mother and daughter combo” trope, where the mother is young at heart and delightfully inappropriate. Paige’s mother Angie (Megan Mullally) walks a fine line between supportive, funny, and totally embarrassing, just as she should.
Paige is a fantastic, lovable, nerdy role model. She’s mortified by her own behaviour sometimes, but stubborn enough to remain herself. She has morals and is deeply troubled when she betrays them. She’s loyal, cutting but never cruel, and we just desperately want her to be happy. AJ has “less impressive twin” issues and provides just the right level of sass and sincerity in equal measure as a love interest to keep Paige on her toes.
The identity of the real King Pun isn’t difficult to unravel, but that isn’t the point. Romance is in the air, and we root for our heroine as she bumbles towards it. I adore that this film exists, and I’d recommend it for older teenagers. It is cartoony in feel but addresses mature sex, drug, and binge drinking themes.
It’s so obvious that this is a film made by and for queer people. It’s that film we all wanted when we were kids - something to make us feel like we all have a place in this world if we just be ourselves, work hard, and look out for our friends. As far as providing classy, laugh-out-loud, teen entertainment in the same way we got D.E.B.S or Clueless when we were growing up, it’s hitting all the right notes.