Guess how many times this movie says gay in the first 20 minutes? 10 times. So with that and the title “Crush,” we definitely know it’s a gay movie. And wherever you can find a gay movie you can find me closely following being far too critical of it.
Hulu’s Crush is about Paige, an aspiring young artist who is forced to join her high school’s track team. Trying to make the best of it, she decides to go after the girl she’s had a crush on for years. She finds herself falling for someone unexpected and according to the synopsis on Hulu “discovers what real love feels like”. That sounds really cute, and I like every queer person am starving for gay media. That’s why I’m upset with how the movie actually turned out.
I already have a complicated relationship with made for streaming queer films as they often disappoint, looking at you Happiest Season. Despite that and the slight controversy I had heard about biphobia within the Crush cast, I tuned in. I’m queer and I will unfortunately always be a sucker for a gay rom-com. I think this movie had a lot of potential. The cast is talented with Auli’i Cravalho, Rowan Blanchard, Isabella Ferreira, Megan Mullally, and more.
The leads Auli’i and Rowan are both queer people playing queer characters which is long overdue. Crush works very hard to not make the plot about queer trauma or fetishization which I can appreciate. If there’s one thing we definitely don’t need more of its queer trauma and the fetishization and dismissal of sapphic relationships. The movie is queer and not about coming out which cannot be said about a lot of queer media out right now.
It is nice to know that what happens after coming out is just as, if not more, important. This movie also shows the characters developing queer unashamed crushes as children which is refreshing, cute, and affirmed my inner queer child. This idea of this movie was the perfect mix of cliche and cute to be the next big rom-com and one for the sapphics at that! However, it most definitely did not do that.
This movie’s synopsis says that Paige “discovers what real love feels like”, and yet in this movie, Paige, and her romantic experiences could not be more surface-level and inconsistent than they are. Paige starts off crushing on Gabby. Gabby is popular and inaccessible to Paige. We are told that Paige is awkward and infer that she is unpopular… but she is friends with two of the most popular people in school and it only takes one scene alone with Gabby for them to kiss.
A lot of this movie actually requires the audience to infer a lot of the major plot points, characters’ feelings, and their relationships. For some reason it decides that makes more sense than showing it to us. We are told that Paige’s feelings for Aj, the unexpected romantic interest and Gabby’s twin, are more real than her feelings for Gabby. We only get a few scenes and two montages where they are alone. Then they have their first kiss. Their lack of time alone to fall for one another makes the kiss scene, which should have the audience on the edge of their seats, feel early and confusing. Their connection is deeper than Paige and Gabby’s. That’s not hard to do because Gabby and Paige have even fewer scenes together.
We are told that Dillion is Paige’s “platonic soulmate” but then rarely see any actual proof of that. We are also told that Paige is awkward and unpopular but her popularity status feels inconsistent. She’s only awkward because it is very forced to the point where it is unbelievable. Gabby and Paige’s first kiss is incredibly random and Paige’s crushes on Gabby and Aj both have very little build-up.
Gabby and Aj have so few scenes together that we don’t even know they are not just sisters but twins until halfway through the movie. I wouldn’t have known it had they not told us because they have very little connection. Aj apparently feels overshadowed by Gabby, feels immense pressure from her parents, and feels like she can’t be artistic. Yet once again I’d never know that had they not told us because they never show us. The audience never even sees Aj interact with her parents, we have to guess who they are in the crowd. We don’t even see her hold so much as a pencil to show that she has any artistic capabilities or desires.
As for the main character Paige I can’t even tell you any qualities she has besides being gay, an artist, wanting to go to Cal U, and liking either Gabby or Aj. Paige is an artist yet the movie can’t even care enough about what kind of artist she is. She makes mostly digital art but has paint splattered on her arms. There are keys to an art room we barely see. We never see how the Cal U arc ends. I do not trust that Paige’s feelings for Aj are any more real than her feelings for Gabby. The only reason I have to think that is because they told us. Paige thought that she had real feelings for Gabby because time slowed, romantic music played, and art bloomed out of her when she saw her.
When the movie later hints that she likes Aj, after very little actual interaction, the same thing starts to happen. That doesn’t make sense if her feelings are different. It would be one thing if we knew why Paige liked Aj. Outside of Aj being the stereotypical meta, chill, and mysterious character she’s supposed to fall for, but we don’t. As the audience, a probably queer one at that, who sees a chill and cool character like Aj portrayed by the talented and beautiful Auli’i we get why we would like Aj. The movie does not show us why Paige does. In contrast, Aj likes Paige’s art, thinks she’s cute when flustered, her heart beats in her ears when Paige looks at her.
Then Paige responds to Aj telling her this by saying “I like you” and nothing else. Not only do we not know why she likes Aj but apparently she doesn’t either. Then Paige makes a very unnecessarily public apology that still doesn’t tell Aj why she likes her, not Gabby. By the end of the movie, the characters are still strangers to us and to each other. The movie gives us a lot of story lines that would have been great with more depth. Time in this short movie (92 minutes!) is wasted. Specifically by scenes that try to force humor that isn’t relevant to the plot.
I did not need to see Stacey and Dillion make out and trade political innuendos. Or Angie, Paige’s mom, cross her daughter’s boundaries as much as I did. This queer movie relies heavily on the fact that Paige is a gay girl and AJ is also a gay girl so it just makes sense. That’s very disappointing. Had this movie used its time more wisely, had better writing to execute its idea fully, and made the characters more 3 dimensional it would have been amazing.
I know everyone won’t agree with me. That queer media does not have to be exceptional in order for it to be made. This is true. I do not want to tear down queer media, especially not this film. And definitely not any of the queer people who worked on it. It is not that I hated the movie. It’s that I could have enjoyed it more. And I ask other queer people, do you like the movie? Or do you like that it is now able to exist? Because I know queer people are starved for media and sometimes we will just take whatever we are given. But don’t we deserve more? Don’t we as queer women deserve a movie that doesn’t have fetishization or trauma. A movie that is also consistent and genuinely deep?
Did we get what we deserve? Maybe we were given a movie that Hulu made because they wanted a queer film and pride month is conveniently around the corner? Are cliches and tropes part of the rom-com genre? Yes. Can they be predictable? Sure. The love triangle and unexpected love interest tropes have been done time and time again. That does not mean they cannot be done well nor that they have to be badly written in order to be rom-com. Also just because a movie is not about queer trauma does not mean it should lose its queer themes.
Queers have been queer-coding movies for decades by showing us a queer character vs their environment and their struggle of being at odds with it. Crush fails to do that by never properly introducing its environment. Paige’s environment is not a homophobic one she has to navigate while liking a girl. Her struggle is not that she likes a girl. Her struggle is in figuring out the difference between infatuation and actual genuine love. At least its supposed to be. That’s something so many queer people can relate to but never see because so much of queer media stops at coming out.
However, Crush fails to properly execute this idea because the audience can not tell if the environment Paige is at odds with is her lack of high school status and insecurities or her unwillingness to be vulnerable. Ultimately it does not really matter. Neither of these attempts at creating her environment is consistent enough or shown thoroughly enough. The film fails to introduce that environment properly. The audience is never show that Paige truly discovers what “real” love is.
For more from Sydney, check out her review of Netflix’s First Kill here!