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REVIEW: In the Company of Women; John McKay Scores with “Crush”

REVIEW: In the Company of Women; John McKay Scores with "Crush"

REVIEW: In the Company of Women; John McKay Scores with "Crush"

by Ray Pride

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Ray Pride reviewed John McKay’s “Crush” during the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film Friday].

When a man writes women behaving badly, they behave truly badly

Short-film veteran John McKay makes his feature debut with “Crush,” an inadequate title for what was once titled “The Sad Fuckers Club.” It’s a curious and compelling concoction, ladling onto its plate old love, young love, raunchy sex, sudden death and babies. The meaning of that phrase is made clear from the second scene, in which we join three women in their mid-forties, booze-deep and cigarette-high in their weekly bitch-and-moan session about what “sad fuckers” they are for their misguided ways with men. Andie MacDowell is Kate, a lonely headmistress of a private school; Imelda Staunton is Janie, a bulldog of a police sergeant whose fussiness is usually trounced by the bitter rants of Molly, a doctor whose acid wit comes off as gay as it is funny. She’s prone to reminiscing over the worst of her three husbands, a man she can only bear to call “Mr. Unspeakable Lying Bastard.” But Molly has standards now: “I won’t settle for a man just because he has nothing wrong with him,” she explains.

One of McKay’s daring bits in this thoroughly competent tragicomic confection, one that earns comparison to the humor of Bill Forsyth and Richard Curtis, is his portrayal of sex in this small English town. When Kate takes up with a former student (Kenny Doughty), a substitute teacher and master of the organ (most potential jokes exploited) who is at least fifteen years younger than her, the sex is mad. Romantic comedies are usually more circumspect, but in “Crush,” Kate is an immediate beneficiary of barefoot backseat shagging with her handsome young thing. From Catherine Breillat‘s upcoming “Brief Journey” to Miramax‘s $5 million Sundance buy, “Tadpole,” the latest device to freshen up romantic comedies is having older women get the young beauty.

But MacDowell is an even greater asset to the film than the gum-popping Doughty. It’s a revelation to watch her timeless beauty and her wide gummy smile after having glorious, giddy, impassioned sex. As she flounces up the village’s high street with her sweet fresh-fucked face, the world smells it on her — it’s a delight to watch. But the village disapproves, and judgment ensues. Her friends worry for her, or perhaps, worry more for their own failure to nab such a lad. McKay’s slick professionalism tempts the fates with a nasty twist in the story which remains unsettling a day after seeing the movie. I don’t want to spoil McKay’s work, but what happens suggest that we should beware of the damage our secrets can cause when they shut out life, rather than celebrate it. The turn is a jaw-dropper, but the viciousness that leads to this tragic event is glossed by film’s end, implying that the bond of female friendship can overcome all.

To credit McKay’s ear, there are many inspired laughs, and a bevy of gratifying moments, both tender and rude. And thank the god of modest comedies that not one of the characters lives in Notting Hill.

[Ray Pride is film editor of Chicago’s Newcity. He is also a contributing editor of Filmmaker and Cinema Scope, and a filmmaker.]

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