As film critic Molly Haskell recently gushed in a New York Times rave about the new British film Crush, "The film brings to the surface the dirty little secret of female solidarity ... that is the rivalry, the jealousy, the ferocious fear of abandonment that underlie our support of one another."
Crush revolves around the masochistic bitching sessions engaged in by three fortysomething friends living in the English countryside who have no men in their lives and dish about the humiliations of dating in middle age.
Janine (Imelda Staunton) is a scrappy police chief whose diminutive appearance is used to comic effect as she leads S.W.A.T. teams into violent confrontations with gun-toting farmers. Molly (Anna Chancellor) is the grade-A bitch of the pack. As gorgeous as she is mean, Molly is a high-powered doctor with a penchant for wealthy men.
The film's heroine is Kate (Andie MacDowell), an American headmistress at a proper British prep school. A buttoned-up priss with an entire wardrobe of pressed linen, Kate, to the horror of her lady friends, falls for a 25-year-old church organist and former student named Jed (Kenny Doughty). Suddenly, the repressed almost-spinster is having sex in the church cemetery and behind stained-glass windows, and she starts contemplating a future with her sexy sexton. Meanwhile, Jed, who wears snakeskin boots, a strip of leather around his neck and can make a woman weep with his organ playing, is a lover out of some gossamer fiction.
Kate's friends not only discourage her relationship with Jed, they seethe with envy, trying every tactic to prove that Jed is an unsuitable lover. By the end of this female "buddy" picture, the notion of womanly friendship has proven so suffocating and destructive, one may yearn to see this trio pickled in the gin they consume at length.
Though it purports to be a women's film, Crush shows definite strains of anxiety in actually delivering Kate's happiness. Like the reactionary, often sexist melodramas of the '40s, this heroine is not allowed to bask in her romantic triumph. The film purports to be about the disabling nature of female friendships and jealousy, but it is really about how uncomfortable we are with tales of sexual deliverance and nonconformity and the potential for happiness with an unsuitable lover.
Crush, in first-time director John McKay's hardly nimble hands, belongs to the Four Weddings and a Funeral school, with just a hint of emotional authenticity to give it texture. That authenticity comes largely in the form of the luminous Andie MacDowell, whose onscreen charisma suggests a hybrid of Debra Winger and Jean Arthur and who can make one believe in soggy notions of consuming, transportive love. But she cannot, try as she might, carry the weight of an entire sodden picture on her back.
McKay approaches the vagaries of women's lives with an element of farce and glosses over some of his film's promising emotional truths with frivolous comedy. Kate's romance with Jed is not simply a predicament of a woman involved with a man below her age and class. Her dilemma is living in a world that favors the contrived sportsman's highs of rappelling off a castle wall or the orderly sentiments of a funeral over true fulfillment and emotional release.
Kate's romance fundamentally promises to liberate her -- to allow her to rise above the routine and the confining social taboos that suck joy out of life. By reducing all this promise of freedom and flight from conformity to the conventions of a routine girly-girl comedy, McKay has done a disservice to a potentially interesting film, and certainly to women's lives.