Director: Sammi Cohen
Starring: Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho
Studio: LD Entertainment, Hulu
Lights, camera, bisexual lighting!
With blue and purple color palettes, girl in red on the soundtrack and references to Phoebe Bridgers, Hulu’s newest original film, “Crush,” hits all the points for modern-day teen queer culture and filmmaking.
Starring Rowan Blanchard as aspiring CalArt student Paige Evans and Auli’i Cravalho as track co-captain AJ Campos, the flick presents a sapphic love triangle as Paige pursues her long-term crush, Gabriela Campos, by joining the track team. However, when her limited athletic abilities force AJ to personally coach Paige, Paige finds her feelings shifting away from Gabriela onto someone new.
Bolstered by the lively chemistry between the cast, the unapologetic gayness of the protagonist and a hunt for an anonymous grafitti artist known as KingPun, “Crush” follows all the classic teenage rom-com tropes, even if its execution can be mediocre at times.
The weakest part of the movie comes in the form of Blanchard’s performance. The typical rom-com sports a protagonist who is often on the fringes of popularity — a nerdy and awkward outcast type. Yet, in the goofiness of the genre, there should reside some kind of charm and endearing quality. Blanchard all too often fails to deliver this likeability.
Rather, Blanchard’s Paige often comes across as a tad annoying and immature, especially in comparison to the film’s consistently enjoyable secondary characters.
The film’s humor also often falls short of what would be considered funny and encroaches on cringey. In particular, the relationship between Paige’s mother and coach can be groan-inducing with its silly sexual jokes that are too corny for a teenage audience and too childish for adults.
But regardless of its pitfalls, the true beauty of “Crush” comes in the form of its queer storytelling. Unlike other movies, such as “Love, Simon,” “Crush” doesn’t center itself around the process of coming out. Rather, the film establishes itself as queer from the get-go, without any qualms or fuss.
Paige’s mom is the typical embarrassing and overbearing, but loving, type — providing her daughter with plenty of sex-ed tips, this time with dental dams rather than condoms. Paige goes to a school where there are multiple queer students — including a variety of other lesbians, from those who are non-binary and effortlessly cool to a practicing Wiccan.
Drawing from stereotypes, “Crush” embraces the variety of queerness that real life teems with, gently poking fun at some of the more exaggerated tropes, as any good high school movie does.
It’s a refreshing approach to queer romance, one that makes “Crush” feel equivalent to its heteronormative counterparts. The queer characters, like any straight character in the classic rom-com, are allowed to explore various love interests, fall into stereotypical romantic tropes (sharing one bed, playing seven minutes in heaven, etc.) and not worry about their sexuality.
The queerness never inhibits the romance.
In creating this convention of queer love, “Crush” then delivers in unbridled queer joy.
This is perhaps best seen in the final scenes of the movie, in which Paige completes her application prompt for CalArt to “show us your happiest moment.”
Paige’s artwork — and what it portrays — is cheesy and predictable, but in a way that is inherent to heterosexual love and not always queer romance. That’s what makes this instance so special.
The moment in which Paige reveals the artwork in front of her school and gets the girl is so often lacking in queer narratives. It’s quintessential rom-com without the typical angst of gay love stories.
As such, while “Crush” may be nothing groundbreaking in acting or even in its narrative, it remains an important stepping stone to normalizing queer romance stories that are fluffy and fun and don’t revolve around the process of coming out.
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.