The Daily Stream: Crush Is The Sapphic Rom-Com Of Your Teen Dreams

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Crush"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Paige Evans (Rowan Blanchard) wants nothing more than to attend the CalArts Summer Program, but her application prompt asking her to showcase artwork inspired by her "happiest moment," leaves her feeling uninspired. After all, how is she supposed to figure out what their happiest moment is to impress a college board without relegating her life's story to the billionth coming out story, where "sad lesbian music is an integral part of [her] identity"? In an attempt to get closer to the girl she's had a crush on since fifth grade (Isabella Ferreira as Gabriela Campos) Paige's life gets a little more complicated when she's assigned Gabby's sister AJ ("Moana" star Auli'i Cravalho) as her running partner, while also being accused by the faculty of being a mysterious vandalizing artist known as "KingPun." It's the typical love triangle subplot of just about every teen rom-com ever made, but it's here, it's queer, and it's hilariously adorable.

Why it's essential viewing

Despite the overwhelming belief that teen movies are nothing more than frivolous fluff, I spend a lot of time analyzing, assessing, and tracking the cultural patterns of teen cinema. Until very, very recently, queer stories weren't reflected in coming-of-age films. The New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s is held with high regard by queer audiences and film scholars, but the general public has likely no idea who Gregg Araki, Cheryl Dunye, or Isaac Julien are despite their immeasurable contributions. Fortunately, with the growing accessibility of streaming services and the demand for queer representation as LGBTQIA+ visibility increases, producers are finally realizing that queer stories are ones worth telling.

"Crush" is a groundbreaking teen rom-com, because it's not about being queer, it just is queer. There's no dramatic coming out storyline, our queer protagonist isn't pining after a straight person and hoping the power of love will overcome orientation, there's no uncomfortable age gap, it's not a period piece, and no one dies. The tropes that exist in "Crush" are not rooted in the queer stories told by straight people for straight audiences, following, instead, the similar beats established in the films of John Hughes, Amy Heckerling, or, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. "Crush" is essential not because it's some inspirational tale of queer love overcoming the odds in a straight world that will garner Oscar-buzz from well-meaning Academy voters, but because it's a very cute teen rom-com that allows queer people to see a love that looks like theirs reflected on screen without having to endure all of the traumatic nonsense usually required. Queer people deserve low-stakes, formulaic teenage happy ending movies too, damn it!

The humor is top-notch

It's hard to tell from Hulu's marketing campaign, but the humor littered throughout "Crush" was surprisingly adult. Queer icon Megan Mullally plays Angie, Paige's single-mother-by-design, who takes the "Cool Mom" trope of "Mean Girls" and turns it into something aspirational rather than embarrassing. She's overly affirming, going as far as buying Paige glow-in-the-dark dental dams and a LELO vibrator (this is how you know queer people were involved in making this movie) to show her support, and relentlessly sex-positive. She is also so, so thirsty for Coach Murray (Aasif Mandvi), and watching the sexual tension between the two of them has big Allison Janney's erotica-writing counselor in "10 Things I Hate About You" energy. Paige's best friend Dillon (the openly gay and playing straight Tyler Alvarez) and his girlfriend Stacey (Teala Dunn) spend a good chunk of the film in the throes of teenage lust, but the two also provide some of the best one-liners of the whole movie. Alvarez brings his "American Vandal" best, effortlessly delivering lines like, "Yeah, I took an Instagram story and it went over the time limit," when Paige thinks she did a good job on her first day at track practice.

Comedian Michelle Buteau is an absolute scene-stealer as Principal Collins, who frequently makes references that fly right over her students' heads and directly into the feelings of the adults watching who also need to come to terms with the fact they're not "hip" anymore. "My references are older than Taylor Swift at this point," she jokes. The adults delivering the laugh-out-loud one-liners follow the grand tradition of high school movies letting character actors shine while the teenagers deal with the heartwarming A-plot like the aforementioned Janney and Larry Miller in "10 Things I Hate About You," Dan Hedaya in "Clueless," and Stanley Tucci in "Easy A."

Crush is a hopeful look toward the future of teen cinema

Teen actors often get a bad rap, and the legacy of being a teen superstar often means actors go many years before "refined" members of the film community finally recognize their talent. The leading cast of "Crush" are all superstars in the making. Rowan Blanchard, Isabella Ferreira, Tyler Alvarez, and Teala Dunn absolutely shine, but it's Auli'i Cravalho, who is admittedly given the strongest arc, that is the one to watch. Most know of Cravalho's talent as the titular voice of "Moana," but film fans would be wise to get familiar with her live-action work. Between "Crush" and the Netflix film "All Together Now," I wouldn't be surprised if Cravalho had a similar career trajectory of someone like Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon, or Regina King.

The film also comes from an all-queer team featuring writers Kirsten King and Casey Rackham and director Sammi Cohen, and it shows. All too often queer stories are crafted with straight audiences in mind, but "Crush" is not that film. From Paige telling her mom that she doesn't need poppers because that's not the kind of gay she is or Dillon expressing concern that Paige has been listening to Phoebe Bridgers for eight hours in a row despite her only having two albums, this is a queer movie through and through. Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne served as producers on the film and it's hard not to see the poetry in Lyonne, whose performance in "But I'm A Cheerleader" set the standard for queer girl teen protagonists, is now in charge of helping bring more queer girl love stories to screens across the globe. "Crush" may be an easily digestible rom-com in the eyes of many (including some of the Gen Z target audience who may not fully grasp how monumental of an achievement it is to be "basic") but that's exactly why the film is worth watching and celebrating.