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Crush review: Charming teen love story anyone can relate to

Reviewing a modern teenage romantic comedy like Hulu’s Crush is a balancing act for any critic a few generations separated from their high-school years. On one side, the world is so much different now for teens than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and story elements intimately familiar to today’s young adults might seem unrealistic or unrelatable to older audiences. Criticizing a film because it doesn’t reflect your experience is problematic (at best), so it can put some reviewers on shaky ground right from the start.

On the other side, good films find a way to make their themes and message resonate with everyone, no matter when you were born, where you live, or who you love. They take something personal and make it universal by building on emotions and experiences we all share in one form or another. And fortunately, Crush does exactly that by delivering a fun, funny, and wonderfully sincere story about love and how we learn to recognize it when we find it.

Rowan Blanchard as Paige Evans sits in a chair in the principal's office, in a scene from Crush.

Directed by Sammi Cohen (Hollywood Darlings) from a script by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham, Crush casts Rowan Blanchard (The Goldbergs) as Paige, an aspiring artist whose crush on a classmate ends up pushing her to become a reluctant member of the school’s track team. The decision creates some unexpected complications when her friendly relationship with a teammate develops into something more — something different from anything she’s felt before.

While the film’s basic premise might lend itself to the sort of tame, candy-colored spin on young love you’d expect to see on the Disney Channel, Crush doesn’t take long to establish itself in the world of casual sex, recreational drugs, and ubiquitous social media that real-world teenagers inhabit. Rather than going the raunchy route, however, Crush offers a cast of teenage characters spilling over with overactive hormones and sexual opportunity but also equipped with a sort of blunt self-awareness and selective maturity that keeps them out of too much trouble.

Blanchard carries the lead role well, finding just the right mix of painful awkwardness, precocious wisdom, and unearned confidence in whatever plan she concocts — whether it involves her love life or her artistic aspirations. Paige is easy to cheer for, even when she’s embracing every stereotype of an overly dramatic teenager, and Blanchard sells the funny moments with as much commitment as the film’s more emotional beats.

Auli'i Cravalho and Rowan Blanchard talk to someone at a party in a scene from Crush.

Portraying A.J., the girl Paige ultimately falls for, Auli’i Cravalho offers a nice reminder that she’s so much more than a beautiful voice. The Moana star looks perfectly comfortable breaking out of the Disney mold and embracing more mature themes, and her chemistry with Blanchard never feels forced or artificial.

Although Crush keeps its focus on its teenage characters, the adults offer plenty of fun performances, too. Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) is fun to watch in any comedic performance, and the sharp humor of Crush plays to her strengths in all the right ways as she portrays Paige’s over-sharing but eternally-supportive mother.

Clever, heartwarming, and wonderfully straightforward at a time when many romantic comedies try to cast too wide a net or squeeze in a few too many story threads than they can handle, Crush is a tremendously satisfying film that feels bigger than it is because of its talented cast and filmmaker, plus its smart script. It’s also a nice reminder that even when a film initially seems like it isn’t made for you, it can still end up speaking to you in surprising and rewarding ways.

Starring Rowan Blanchard, Crush premieres April 29 on Hulu streaming service.

Crush (2022)
Genre Drama, Romance, Comedy
Stars Rowan Blanchard, Auli'i Cravalho, Isabella Ferreira
Directed by Sammi Cohen

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