Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Pride Spotlight: Paige and AJ in ‘Crush’

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! For the entire month of June, we will be highlighting different members of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think are great examples of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight shines on Crush, Hulu’s latest addition to its library of queer teen romances like Love, Victor

It’s an age old story: someone falls for a classmate at a young age but is too scared to pipe up, they try to get closer to the object of their affection, only to find that perhaps someone else was the right love all along. That basic plot device has been the inspiration for numerous classic romantic comedies like The Princess Diaries or 13 Going on 30, but Crush flips the script by adding a queer twist. 

Paige (Rowan Blanchard) has loved popular track captain Gabby (Isabella Ferreira) since grade school. Now nearing graduation and applying for art school, she is tasked with creating a piece describing her happiest moment. At the same time, a graffiti artist calling themselves KingPun has been leaving art all over town, and as the prime suspect, Paige is looking at suspension. Trying to prove she’s not KingPun and desperate to get closer to Gabby, she joins the track team. But when the coach partners her with Gabby’s sister AJ (Auli’i Cravalho) instead of Gabby, Paige discovers that maybe she had the wrong crush all along. 

Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho in ‘Crush.’/Brett Roedel for Hulu
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First and foremost, Crush is a film by queer people, for queer people. Director Sammi Cohen and writers Casey Rackham and Kirsten King all identify as LGBTQ, while leading ladies Blanchard and Cravalho identify as queer and bisexual, respectively. As Cravalho noted in an interview for The Wrap, this allowed for more authentic comedy and explorations of queer issues. Crush is witty, with the accurate Gen Z humor sure to make it a hit among teen viewers. But rather than making queerness the butt of the joke, Rackham and King are able to poke fun at aspects of the LGBTQ experience by laughing with, not at, its queer characters. 

Crush is also notable for the way it casually uses romantic tropes usually reserved for straight couples in romantic comedies, like “there was only one bed!” and enemies to lovers. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of plot, but seeing a queer couple at the center of these teen romance tropes makes Crush fresh. Cravalho and Blanchard have great chemistry, and by skipping the standard coming out angst, we get right to the fun of their “will they or won’t they” relationship. Even better, their peers are supportive of their sexualities (and many are queer themselves), so the plot is allowed to move out of the realm of homophobia and fear and into joy. 

Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho in ‘Crush.’/Hulu

This was an intentional move by the filmmakers, who note that in a world in which being a LGBTQ teenager is increasingly difficult, they wanted to provide a respite that was authentic. As Rackham shared, “On one hand, I saw Love, Simon with my mom. And I loved Love, Simon. But I also have seen and understand the critique that it was made for straight people. I wished my mom could watch something that wasn’t centered around a coming-out story, that shows we’re okay. Kirsten and I have gotten messages from people saying, ‘It’s been tough for me where I live. I’m so excited to watch this.’ And that truly means the world to us.”

Paige, AJ, and their friends are dynamic and fun characters who experience queerness differently, and that is developed well on-screen. While Crush has a bit more bite to it than recent hits like Heartstopper, it still helps fills the void of joyful queer stories.

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Crush is available now on Hulu. Be sure to check back soon for more Pride Spotlights! 

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