Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 18, 2002
Break It Up

The sophomoric Crush will make you feel like getting hammered.

By Kristian Lin

A few years ago, Nicole Holofcener directed Walking and Talking, a comedy starring Catherine Keener and Anne Heche that struck some interesting notes on the subject of the jealousy that can arise between female friends. It was fairly enjoyable, though it fell short of greatness. However, it looks like a rare masterpiece next to Crush, an English film on the same subject.

Kate Scales (Andie MacDowell) is the headmistress of an exclusive private school in a small English town. She’s the uptight one among her single fortyish female friends, while Molly (Anna Chancellor) is the bitchy one and Janine (Imelda Staunton) is the, uh, other one. They get together to kvetch about the pathetic men they date and wallow in communal self-pity over gin and chocolate bars. Things change when Kate falls in lust — and love — with a smokin’ hot 25-year-old former student named Jed (Kenny Doughty). When this happens, she finds that her friends handle collective misery much better than one member of the group’s being happy; Molly and Janine’s disapproval of the relationship soon turns into open warfare.

First-time writer/director John McKay’s conception of the lead role is colorless: Kate’s friends express their hostility so bluntly that she looks like an airhead for ignoring their barbed comments about her and Jed. (Typical example: “What can he really give you, except a renewed sense of your own sell-by date?”) Probably no actress could have saved the role, but MacDowell is so wan here that you’ll wonder if she had mono during the filming. She seems to be sapped of all energy, which isn’t good when her character is supposed to be absolutely carried away by her affair. Even had this film had much better material, her performance would’ve ruined it.

Without a spark between the romantic leads, everything else falls apart. The undeniably handsome Doughty has eyes that go from puppy-dog to hound-dog in a way that’s appealing, but he’s too callow to seem convincing when Jed goes down on one knee during a party and declares his love for Kate. There’s so little to their romance that the movie insults us by taking a tragic turn and asking us to cry over the characters. The bitchy supporting role is usually the rewarding one under these circumstances. Chancellor, whom sharp-eyed viewers will remember as the bride who decked Hugh Grant after he ditched her in Four Weddings and a Funeral, succeeds against heavy odds in making her character feel real rather than unbelievably shrewish.

Besides comic material that’s about as funny as three days of English rain, the movie suffers from an appalling lack of understanding of basic human behavior. Kate’s obliviousness, Molly’s destructiveness, and Janine’s acquiescence are stretched so far, you’d think there was some satirical point to the film. There isn’t. The forgiveness extended to Molly and the revelation that one of the friends may be gay are just two things that defy all logic. It gets points for trying, but Crush seems to have been made by a choirboy whose understanding of mature women is entirely based on a week spent locked in his room watching movies like Beaches on video.

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