Crush (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A likable high school queer comedy film

“Crush” reminds me of how things seem to have changed these days. As a mainstream American high school queer comedy film, it proudly and cheerfully depicts its main characters’ sexuality without any shame or hesitation, and I appreciate that a lot while enjoying its sweet mix of humor and sincerity. Yes, as many of us know too well, there is still a considerable amount of social/cultural backlash against millions of sexual minority kids out there, but that is why such films like this mean a lot to them, isn’t it?

The story mainly revolves around the longtime romantic yearning of a high school kid named Paige Evans (Rowan Blanchard). For several years, Paige has been carrying a torch for her schoolmate Gabriel Campos (Isabella Ferreira), but Gabriel has seemed to be out of her reach as one of the most popular girls in their school, and Paige has been quite frustrated about that while not knowing what to do with her old crush on Gabriel.

At least, Paige can focus on honing her artistic skill and talent more for getting accepted into some prestigious art school after her graduation, but then there comes a little trouble which may seriously jeopardize her plan. During last several months, somebody nicknamed “KingPun” has been drawn a series of unauthorized murals here and there in the school, and, due to one unlucky coincidence, Paige finds herself becoming the prime suspect. Although there is no incriminating evidence against her, the principal of the school is ready to get her suspended right now, so Paige has no choice but make a deal with the principal. Besides joining the fast track team of the school as needed, she will also have to find the true identity of that mysterious person as soon as possible.

Along her best friend Dillon (Tyler Alvarez) and his girlfriend Stacey (Teala Dunn), Paige embarks on finding who KingPun is, and she also tries hard as much as she can for being a fairy competent member of the school fast track team. As watching many clumsy trials of hers, my mind was taken to how miserable I often was during those terrible physical education classes during my childhood and adolescent years, and I certainly felt some sympathy toward her despite getting some chuckles from this broad comic moment.

Anyway, Paige turns out to be able to run well at least, and she is later instructed to be coached by one of her fellow team members. Because Gabriel is incidentally one of her team members, she surely hopes to be coached by Gabriel, but, to her disappointment, she is assigned to AJ (Auliʻi Cravalho) instead, who is Gabriel’s tomboy twin sister.

Around that narrative point, I bet that some of you will quickly discern what will happen next along the story. Yes, it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that our heroine is surprised to find that her heart is now being attracted to AJ after they come to spend more time together. Yes, our heroine still has to sort out her complicated feelings between Gabriel and AJ, and there inevitably comes a point where everything is exposed around these three main characters. In case of that matter surrounding the true identity of King Pun…. well, I only can tell you that you must watch more movies if you still cannot figure that out even during the middle act.

The screenplay by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham is often predictable and conventional to the core, but it is still engaging nonetheless as constantly providing humor and sincerity along its heroine’s bumpy emotional journey. While we often chuckle at several silly comic moments of hers, there is also enough gravitas under her aspiration and romantic yearning, and that is why the expected finale works well as drawing some cheers from us. I also enjoyed a subplot associated with Dillon and Stacey’s playful (and sexually charged) competition on the upcoming student president election, and this subplot also gets a nice payoff moment around the end of the story.

Furthermore, the movie is held together well by the spirited efforts from its main cast members. As the center of the story, Rowan Blanchard is plain but plucky as required by her role, and she and Auliʻi Cravalho, who recently drew our attention for her excellent voice performance in Disney Animation film “Moana” (2016), are fun to watch as their characters are tentatively attracted to each other. While Isabella Ferreira, Tyler Alvarez, and Teala Dunn bring ample amount of life and personality to their respective supporting characters, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Buteau, and Megan Mullally dutifully fill their small spots as several adult characters in the story, and Mullally effortlessly steals the scene as a single mother who is always willing to talk openly about sex and romance with her dear daughter.

Directed by Sammi Cohen, “Crush” is pretty conventional just like several recent high school queer films such as “Love, Simon” (2018), but it has enough charm and personality for our entertainment at least. Sure, this is not something as great as, say, “Carol” (2015), but it does its job as well as intended in addition to contributing a bit to the growing representation of sexual minority kids in American movies during last several years, and I am certainly pleased about this recent welcoming change. I still have some doubts as your average discreet pessimist, but things are indeed changing, I guess.

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