Hulu’s Crush is a teen romantic comedy about falling head over heels when it’s least expected. High school junior Paige (Rowan Blanchard) is an aspiring artist. She’s been dreaming about attending CalArts for as long as she can remember, and the time has come to submit her application for their summer program. The main requirement of the application is to portray her happiest moment through the medium of her choice. Paige considers when she came out as gay to her mom (Megan Mullally) or to her best friend Dillon (Tyler Alvarez), but neither feels quite right.
Another option for Paige’s application is for her to draw her years-long unrequited crush on one of the most popular girls in school, Gabriella (Isabella Ferreira). Dillon teases her, saying there’s no way CalArts would see the crush as something that was worthy of admittance. He also reminds Paige that high school will be ending soon and her time to tell Gabriella about her crush is running out.
Dillon and his girlfriend, Stacey (Teala Dunn), are on the track team with Gabriella and her twin sister, AJ (Auli’i Cravalho). Despite the fact that she’s not interested in sports, Paige sees being on the team as an opportunity to get closer to Gabriella. And even if she’s no good at track, she’ll have an extracurricular activity that will make her a better candidate for CalArts. The plan doesn’t work so well, because the track coach (Aasif Mandvi) pairs Paige with AJ, who is nothing like her twin. Where Gabriella is popular and charming, AJ is quiet and closed off. As Paige spends more time with AJ, though, walls come down and feelings begin to develop. Now, with her CalArts application still looming, Paige is torn between two girls.
Perhaps what’s most exciting about Crush is how unabashedly queer it is. Aside from Paige, AJ, and Gabriella, the school is filled with queer people. There’s Gabriella’s on-again off-again partner, Aya, who uses they/them pronouns, Chantal the witchy lesbian, and various queer couples in the background at parties. Even the soundtrack favors queer musicians, with featured songs by Mal Blum and Caveboy. On multiple occasions, Paige wears band tees for girl in red and Teagan and Sara. Attention is never brought to these shirts, but it’s a subtle nod to a specific community.
The film also pays homage to the teen rom coms that came before it. The other schools at the away track meet have names like Heckerling and Linklater. Most famously, Amy Heckerling wrote and directed Clueless and Richard Linklater is behind teen fare like Dazed and Confused and SubUrbia. Further references can briefly be seen in banners along the track advertising local businesses like Baby’s Dance Studio (Dirty Dancing) and Stratford Sister Paintball (10 Things I Hate About You). In a time when movies in all genres want to be meta and make the audience aware of the background jokes they’re making, it was pleasant to have these thoughtful and unobtrusive references.
There’s a timelessness to Crush that was a refreshing surprise. While the film clearly takes place in the present day and the characters are using smartphones and tablets, the conflict comes from good, old-fashioned, in-person miscommunication. So many contemporary teen movies heavily rely on technology and its effects on relationships. Eighth Grade is the leading example for how to tell a story about social media, smartphones, and their effect on teens as they grow up. More often than not, the use of technology in teen movies feels immediately dated because the technology is changing at the speed of light.
It’s to Crush’s benefit that technology is not a character on its own. Some may see it as a negative that the movie doesn’t fully capture the teen experience without including at least a semi-major recognition of teen social media use. Too often, though, movies use technology as shorthand for relationship development. It’s a rushed way of showing growth without having to actually write the maturation. Conversations are replaced with montages of the love interests looking at their phone and smiling. The audience understands what’s happening here, but it robs them of witnessing the development.
And isn’t that why we all watch romantic comedies? To see the stolen glances, hear the awkwardly cute attempts at flirting, and remember what it’s like to feel that for ourselves? To feel swept up in the romance of it all and let the stress of the world fall away for a little while.
Crush is a return to form. It’s a teen rom com filled to the brim with yearning, the way they should be. There’s a uniqueness to the crushes teenagers have, and writers Kirsten King and Casey Rackham have managed to perfectly articulate it. The way Paige sees Gabriella in slow motion, with music and colors bursting around her, making her unable to speak coherent sentences. The way the smallest brush of hands is something to obsess over for weeks. The script is perfectly attuned to the all-too-familiar feeling of crushing hard.
Teens have angst about growing up no matter what generation or decade they’re in. They’re eventually going to crush on the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time. They’re going to be excited and paralyzed at the prospect of the future. They’re going to make mistakes and surprise themselves with their kindness. Crush is bright, breezy, and warm. It’s the sort of movie to save for a rainy day or to share at a sleepover with friends. A saccharine-sweet romantic comedy at its finest.