There is a scene in Crush in which church organist Jed (Kenny Doughty) demonstrates to school headmistress Kate (Andie MacDowell) his infallible method of jerking tears from a congregation – how he modulates the sounds and the moods, thus manipulating their emotions. Naturally, before the lesson is even half over, Kate is bawling, putty in Jed's hands.
I wish I could interpret this scene as an ironically subversive wink to the film audience, a way of alerting us to the movie's own shameless store of tricks and clichés. Alas, I fear we are meant to take it perfectly straight. Kate really is in love and Jed is the man of her dreams.
Things start going wrong in Crush at an early point. After Kate has had her first roll in the hay with Jed (her ex-student, seventeen years her junior), she straightens herself up and comments: "Nice organ". The witticisms go downhill from there.
Kate's problem is that her affair disturbs the harmony of her friendships with Molly (Anna Chancellor) and Janine (Imelda Staunton). As mature, successful, single women without men, they have long bolstered each other and laughed their neurotic cares away with booze and chocolate. But what if Kate's fling becomes (in the film's lingo) a thing?
Kate is strait-laced and cautious. Molly hates men, having been through three husbands. Janine, a police chief, is highly politically correct. One guesses about 110 minutes before the end of this 115 minute movie that all this will turn around. To divert us from the inevitable, debut writer-director John McKay engineers some gross mood-changes and at least one genuinely odd plot surprise.
Apart from some nice, green, widescreen photography of an English Cotswold village, the film is awful. Scenes are dull, the humour is forced and the rhythm is slack. Mournful Nick Drake ballads now fill the slot on the soundtrack where Elvis Costello or Van Morrison tracks once went. The cast tries valiantly to inject some kooky, touching humour into their roles but have nothing solid to work with.
So-called chick flicks – and there has never been a cruder or more calculating shot at this niche market than McKay's effort here – are always intriguing in their determination to turn the old sexist tables. Women are the outrageous ones and men are their fantasy objects, their toy boys.
Fair enough. But who could fall in love with a non-entity like Jed? This puppy dog plays music, recites poetry and slurps his soup. I rather sympathised with Molly's wicked determination to get rid of him.
© Adrian Martin May 2002