Boy, if Disney really wants to get Wuhan Ron’s “Don’t Say Gay” Goat, they should buy him a subscription to Hulu. With “Crush,” Hulu serves up the gayest gay vulgarian heroine in a gay fantasia of a high school ever…since “Glee!” anyway.
How gay? They cast Megan Mullally as the kid’s indulgent, supportive and overly “helpful” mother. Who better to pass along “glow in the dark dental dams” and toothbrush-as-vibrator advice? Well, if Harvey Fierstein isn’t available?
“Crush” is a formulaic high school rom-com with one great big out and over-powering gay twist. First-time feature director Sammi Cohen and screenwriters Kirsten King and Casey Rackham park this version of the virginal teen trope — starring Rowan Blanchard of TV’s “Girl Meets World” — in a school so gay-friendly that “coming out” is no longer an issue, “acceptance” is a given” and the toughest decision might be which of Miller High’s many alluring little lesbians to focus her attention on.
There’s the Wiccan, the “horse skank” (into dressage), the short-haired influencer, or the sporty-hotty Gabriella (Isabella Ferreira) whom out-but-never-been-kissed Paige has crushed on since elementary school.
Gabriella was the classmate who first gave her the tinglies, prompting Paige to come out to her mom.
Only Miss Popular Gabriella barely knows Paige exists. Despite the support of Dillon (Tyler Alvarez), Paige’s straight-best-friend — upending THAT “gay BFF” trope is as edgy as this gets — and Dillon’s girlfriend (Teala Dunn) and opponent in the class president election, Paige seems too shy and inexperienced to make a play for the princess.
“Am I at least a ‘top?'”
That’s pretty much the tone of “Crush,” something that casting Mullally tips off. This is “Will & Grace” in-your-face sitcom gay, where the slang, the (girls) locker room talk, even the “I’ll finally learn to to insert a tampon without the end sticking out” banter passes “frank” on its way to “coarse.”
Mom’s raised Paige in a “sex positive house,” and as Dillon’s on a first name basis with his pal’s mother, their exchanges are bitchy-witty and sit-commie unreal in the extreme. Mom is flushed and responsive to Paige’s authoritarian track coach’s (Aasif Mandvi’s) advances.
“I guess the ‘promiscuous gene’ skips a generation,” Dillon quips. “That’s what they SAY,” Mom quips back.
The plot is just as obvious. Gabriella has a sportier, more introverted and more butch sister, AJ (Auli’i Cravalho). Isn’t she fated to be the one Paige falls for, playing by “Breakfast Club/Pretty in Pink” rules?
“Obvious” is where “Crush” goes a little wrong, and that’s just the start. The story has no real villain, just a quest to discover who “Kingpun,” the school’s graffiti artist/prankster is. Paige is the one the principal (Michelle Buteau, trying too hard) is prepared to suspend over this not-the-least-bit-amusing prank/vandalism, and on the flimsiest of evidence.
Paige’s “goal,” aside from first love, is to get into a Cal Arts summer program for budding artists this coming summer. We see nothing of her art that suggests she’s Cal Arts material, and the journey to creating more “personal” work is one of the movie’s non-starter plot threads.
The “kingpun” bits produce zero giggles. Track pratfalls — Paige joins the team just to be closer to Gabriella, to add an extracurricular activity and to avoid suspension — land just as flat. Thus all the laugh laughs must come from the shock-value frankness of the foul-mouthed kids and adults, the assorted high school (student and adult) “types” and the way tolerance run amok has shaped this high school’s conversations.
Yes, the kids are into”edibles” and drinking. But there’ll be no “Seven Minutes in Heaven” make-out sessions on the track team’s road trip, thank you very much.
“Noooo, that perpetuates a Christian narrative!”
The leads have little chemistry, something enough re-takes and clever editing can usually overcome. Cravalho (TV’s “Rise”) has a camera spark that veteran child actress Blanchard may have lost.
And I dare say none of those shortcomings will matter to the kids who relish the film’s inclusive vibe.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the filmmakers hope, that you’ll be so swept up in “representation” that you won’t notice how generic the story is, and how dull and drab and laugh-starved its execution turns out to be.
They went to all the trouble of nailing their “messaging,” and forgot to put it in a comedy that’s romantic or a romance that’s comic.
Hardly the sort of thing that will convert the Republican homophobes of Florida and their dear leader.
Rating: TV-MA, lots of profanity, frank talk about sex
Cast: Rowan Blanchard, Auli’i Cravalho, Megan Mullally, Aasif Mandvi, Isabella Ferreira, Tyler Alvarez, Teala Dunn and Michelle Buteau.
Credits: Directed by Sammi Cohen, scripted by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham. A Hulu release.
Running time: 1:33