Sammi Cohen’s Crush is a terrific coming-of-age film telling the story of Paige Evans (Rowan Blanchard), an aspiring artist on track to apply at CalArts. She has a significant crush on Gabriella Campos (Isabella Fereira) at school and has had one since she was a child. After Coach Murray (Aasif Mandvi) accuses Paige of being an anonymous artist named KingPun, who vandalizes school property with their graffiti, she is forced to join the track team, whom Gabriela is also a part of. However, the Coach pairs her with Gabriela’s sister, AJ (Auli’i Cravalho). They quickly become friends and soon have feelings for one another, complicating things with Gabriela.
Yes, the film is riddled with clichés, and you can see everything coming a mile away. As soon as the film frames KingPun, it doesn’t take much detective work to find out who they are, and when the revelation does happen, you know who it was. But rom-coms are usually filled with clichés and arcs we see coming a mile away. What matters is the following: does the romance between the two leads work? Are they believable enough to emotionally carry the entire film? If so, you’ve got yourself a great movie in your hands, irrespective of the clichés it throws at you. Nowadays, rom-coms don’t reinvent the wheel because they’re specifically designed to elicit strong emotions out of the audience through a believable romance between two charming leads.
Crush does precisely that: it has strong emotional power through its queer romance with its leads. Both Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho are absolute stars and completely steal the spotlight in this picture. Cravalho, known for playing Moana, adds a tremendous dramatic pull that perfectly balances Blanchard’s more witty and comedic spirit. Whenever the movie slows down to build its relationship with both characters, that’s where Crush is at its strongest because it can develop the feelings they have for one another and make it believable for the audience. They’re proudly queer, no questions asked, and are madly in love. It shouldn’t be a big deal to say that you’re queer in today’s society because love is love. And there isn’t anything more powerful than that, no matter who you love.
So after years of failing at doing any meaningful form of LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream titles, Crush is a step in the right direction for more queer-driven stories made by queer filmmakers and starring queer actors. Queer actresses play all three protagonists, and Crush’s filmmaking and writing team are also queer. This is the representation that any studio should amplify instead of patting themselves on the back whenever they write a throwaway line that implicitly tells a character is queer, which can be quickly censored in countries like China.
As mentioned above, the clichés hinder the film a bit but don’t necessarily matter in the larger scheme of the picture. Because both leads can carry the entire movie on their shoulders and make us believe that their relationship is genuine, with the emotional core resting on both actresses, we can sympathize with them and relate to what they’re feeling towards each other. Its supporting cast is also excellent, with Aasif Mandvi and Megan Mullaly being major standouts here. Mandvi seems to have lots of fun playing the coach nobody loves, and his deadpan facial expressions make the character even funnier. Mullaly plays Paige’s mother, and she has excellent comedic timing when paired with Mandvi or Blanchard.
Above all else, the movie’s heart is in the right place. The film likely wouldn’t have worked without a strong emotional bond between AJ and Paige, even with a well-intentioned plot. But it is precisely because their chemistry works that the movie’s heart starts to grow as it progresses and that it can overcome its clichés. The big scene at the end where Paige confesses her love to AJ has been done a thousand times before in…well…any rom-com ever. However, because we’re interested in their relationship and are rooting for them to end up together by the time the movie is over, it’s hard not to swell up when they confess their love and live happily ever after. It was clear, from the get-go, that we were going to have that ending. So the emotional connection between the audience and the protagonists had to be finely developed for us to believe in the finale and constantly invest in Paige’s journey, which ultimately leads to Paige finding love in AJ.
Crush doesn’t reinvent the wheel. I’ve already said that. But the film has a genuine heart that I feel is rare in most rom-coms that get released nowadays; it’s almost impossible not to love the relationship that blossoms between Paige and AJ, both wonderfully portrayed by Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho. And because of this, the movie should be seen by anyone who craves a feel-good romantic comedy, especially in times of massive uncertainty. It may not be one of the best films of the year, but it gets the job done, and that’s all that matters.
Crush is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.