Some fine screen chemistry between its leads and a spikey, offhandedly comic script by young writer-director John McKay put spice into “Crush,” a romantic comedy centered on three mature, sex-starved women in a genteel English village that’s an entertaining night out at the movies. Likely to be dubbed “Two Weddings and Some Funerals,” given its storyline and the presence of Andie MacDowell as one of the leads, pic is in fact less slick than the ’94 pic and not as flawlessly constructed. However, its overall sunny disposition and immensely likable characters peg this for some very cozy theatrical business, if properly marketed and positioned.
Kate (MacDowell), Janine (Imelda Staunton) and Molly (Anna Chancellor) are three friends in their early 40s who meet regularly to swap stories about their hopeless love lives. (Pic’s original, much more apt title was “Sad Fuckers Club,” the first two words being Brit slang for “losers.”) An expat American, Kate is headmistress of a tony private school that requires her to maintain a spotless reputation; Janine is a hard-assed detective with the local police force; and Molly is a well-heeled doctor with a string of failed marriages.
The three characters’ backgrounds and easy friendship are established from the get-go as we hear their latest confessions between their binges on alcohol, chocolate and cigarettes: Molly’s disastrous date with a fellow doctor, Janine’s drunken snog with a nerdy night-school colleague and Kate’s latest attack of the baby blues.
Breezy tone, sustained by Kevin Sargent’s busy score, is maintained as the plot kicks into gear without any delay. At the funeral of her predecessor, Kate spots a handsome young organist with some racy boots who turns out to be one of her former pupils; before you can say crematorium, she and Jed (Kenny Doughty) are enjoying a quickie in the long grass in front of the church.
Ribbed by her two friends for cradle-snatching a 25-year-old, Kate initially shrugs off the dalliance. But soon she and Jed are secretly getting it on like rabbits — until Molly and Janine (in one of the pic’s biggest laughs) literally walk in on them in flagrante delicto.
A small dinner party to officially introduce Jed goes badly, with Molly and Janine still convinced it is not a match made in heaven. However, everything the well-intentioned friends can do to capsize the relationship — from digging up Jed’s drug record to carting Kate off to Paris for a spell of sex ‘n’ shopping — only strengthens the bond between the lovers. When Jed proposes to Kate, she accepts.
It’s at this point, about an hour in, that McKay manages the difficult task of turning a lively sex comedy into a romantic one, sufficiently convincing the viewer of the strength of the central relationship. Given subsequent developments, it’s important to believe not only in Jed’s genuine love for the older Kate but also the latter’s deep affection.
However, the cynical Molly simply won’t give up, and tries to seduce Jed in the local church, with Janine secretly taping the scene. The outcome throws the three women’s friendship completely for a loop and only when Molly comes up with yet another scheme to save Kate from a disastrous decision do they rediscover their original solidarity.
After teasing the viewer along with a snappy, tartly observed romantic comedy, McKay takes a huge chance two-thirds of the way in by completely reshuffling the deck and going for a slower, darker tone. The gambit largely succeeds thanks to the residual sympathy for the characters, but the pic still has a couple of reels prior to the final act (and neat coda) in which the previously secure tone wobbles for a while.
Without dominating the movie in any way, MacDowell is absolutely assured in the part of the headmistress-with-an-itch, handling McKay’s slightly goofy mixture of one-liners and eccentric character traits with aplomb. Staunton’s severe, dumpy policewoman is the most low-key of the three but the experienced character actress manages to hold her own between her more demonstrative co-leads.
However, the real revelation here is Chancellor, a mostly TV actress who, on the bigscreen, has never been given the bigger parts she deserves. Her waspish, well-heeled doc gets some of the best lines in the script, and it is her character which is the real motor to the whole movie.
In his first major role, Doughty is fine as Jed, with a sufficient physical presence and managing to handle his declarations of love with simple conviction. Veteran Bill Paterson, as the local vicar with the longtime hots for Kate, makes much of a supporting role.
Technical credits are smooth, with Henry Braham’s lensing of the Gloucestershire locations catching the flavor of a comfortable rural English community without overdosing on the picturesque. Anne Sopel’s editing allows the performances to breathe naturally.