review by Cynthia Fuchs, 5 April 2001
Better than sausages
say I'm disappointed in you, young lady, is an understatement."
So begins the stern dressing down delivered by Kate (Andie
MacDowell), to a child caught smoking at a British private school.
The camera pulls out slowly from Kate's face, to allow you time to
absorb her every lovely detail. After ensuring that student knows
full well the extent of her displeasure, Kate confiscates the
cigarettes, dismisses the girl, and then, alone in her office, sucks
down one of those cancer sticks with elaborate pleasure.
first scene in John McKay's Crush lays out the film's
remarkably banal premise: while Kate appears perfect on the outside,
she's actually unhappy. She manages her disappointment (with her
charges, yes, but more with her life), as well as boredom with her
very proper headmistressing job, her small-town horizons (she's an
American living in the "quaint English Cotswolds," so
described in the press kit), and most especially, her lack of a man,
by spending one evening a week in a grousing session. She and her
best friends -- single mom-policewoman Janine (Imelda Staunton) and
three-times-divorced, cruelly witty doctor Molly (Anna Chancellor)
-- drink gin, eat chocolates, and swap pitiful stories (pathetic
sex, bad sex, no sex), angling to win the prize for "Saddest
F*cker of the Week."
Crush offers itself (according to its
website) as "the female perspective." Even aside from the
problem of assuming a single such perspective, the film's version of
it is decidedly unoriginal. This isn't to say that girlfriends can't
support one another when they're feeling alienated from the
surrounding, narrow-minded culture that expects every woman to nab a
man and settle down: but how come, in the movies, the women who
comfort one another in the midst of their uncoupledness can't quite
see their way out of the cultural expectations that are so
alienating them? 'Tis a puzzlement.
any rate, the movie needs a plot, and so, into the women's
melancholy world steps Jed (Kenny Doughty). Kate's former student,
he's now a lovely-looking twenty-five and playing organ for funerals
at the local church. (Crush has already been compared to Four
Weddings and a Funeral, in part because it involves British
weddings and funerals: how novel.) When Kate learns that Jed had a
crush on her back in the day, she leads him outside to the cemetery,
where they enjoy a quick shag on someone's gravestone, while the
rest of the funeral party converses politely on the church steps.
It's the same deal as when she smokes that first secret cigarette in
her office: Kate is a good girl who wants to be "bad,"
she's somewhat embarrassed by her folly, Kate relates this first
encounter at that week's "Saddest F*cker" session. Molly
and Janine agree that it's a sad story, then move on. But trouble
comes when Kate finds herself unable to move on. She's drawn to Jed,
again and again. He's so earnest, so fun, so full of energy, and
besides, he's devoted to her. When she eventually confesses to her
friends that she has seen him again, they're very concerned,
imagining that he's far too immature to be considered an ideal mate.
They agree to a dinner to meet Jed, bringing along their own, more
properly aged dates. At this point the film goes where you know it
will -- the older folks are dismayed by Jed's affection for loud
music and soup-slurping. He gets drunk, declares his undying love
for his lady, and falls down.
antics lead to disapproval from the older, more sophisticated folks,
of course. And the film's "female perspective" here
divides, somewhat, as Kate is forced to choose between her friends
and Jed. But really, the film never gets over its own investment in
conventional arrangements, in terms of love, age, gender, race, and
class; even when one character decides she's open to a lesbian
relationship, it's an afterthought, undeveloped and a means to
"wrap up" with a clever twist.
and Janine apparently believe that Kate is much better suited to the
dullest man on the planet, the vicar Gerald Farquhar Marsden (Bill
Paterson). And indeed, when he pledges his troth to her (end extols
her virtues, as in, "You're better than sausages!"), she's
tempted -- he's so solidly bourgeois, and isn't security and comfort
precisely what those who have the "female perspective"
seek? Alas, Gerald can't compete with the excitement of secret sex
among the footballs and gym jerseys in her school's locker room, or
playing doctor against her couch, or any number of other
"illicit" situations his youthful imagination concocts.
Kate just can't resist, but then she can, and then she can't, and
then... well, the film does go on.
is most outspoken about her misgivings, deeming the relationship
"hideously perverted." Janine, ever the mediator, appears
to go along, for fear that Kate will end up in a relationship where
her younger man will cheat on her. The women take Kate for a weekend
to Paris, hoping that the fine hotel room and a few suave Frenchmen
will enable her to "get over" her crush. But the plan
backfires, and soon Kate is planning a wedding with her young
sweetie. This is too much for Molly and the narrative, which rapidly
descends into a series of nonsensical and nasty turns. And Jed, as
sympathetic, charming, and sincere as he has seemed throughout, is
suddenly turned into Plot Device.
would appear that the women's friendship is the film's primary
concern, and that the crushes they suffer are just that, as well as
means to illustrate and somehow cement their increasingly disturbing
power dynamics. Crush is surely "quaint," but as it
purports to demonstrate the binds and frustrations confronting
middle-ageish "women," it's also sad in ways it probably
doesn't mean to be.
Under 17 requires
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