As the social media sphere steadily encroaches on “real life,” many filmmakers struggle with how to best translate the way characters interact in the digital space on to the big screen. How do you create cinematic interpretations that don’t feel out of touch with the way the Facebooks and Twitters and iMessages of the world actually work? The challenge has created its own genre, with films like “Searching” and “Unfriended” using virtual interactions to frame their narratives; other films have tried to shoehorn off-brand apps to approximate How We Live Now with less exciting results (looking at you, “Nerve”). But what does social media feel like?
Emily Cohn’s “CRSHD,” a shaggy lo-fi buddy comedy built around a classic “let’s lose our virginity!” scheme, has a brilliant answer for that. Set during the waning days of their first year at college, “CRSHD” follows a trio of best pals as they attempt to make romantic magic happen with a slew of possible paramours as helped (and, occasionally, hindered) by their Very Online lives. Cohn’s big idea for how to bring Facebook, Tinder, even text messaging to life is a daring one, but it works: each character appears on the screen, reading out their messages and profile bits (mistakes and all), adding emotion and personality to otherwise digital exchanges.
Initially, the idea works to steep the audience in the personalities and and bonds of the film’s central trio: nervous Izzy (Isabelle Barbier), chatty Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar), and outgoing Fiona (Sadie Scott), before doing the same for a sprawling supporting cast. Cohn’s characters feel real, not like glossy caricatures of what people think kids these days are like, and the thinness of the film’s plotting is vastly improved by the veracity they add to it. (And, no, there likely won’t be a better joke about online dating this year than a sequence in which ditzy dudes read off their profile highlights, from being “apathetic with a touch of fuccboi” to both “a devil and an angle,” and yes, that mistake is very real.)
And yet the problems the trio of BFFs face, while exacerbated by social media, are timeless. The immediacy of their methods of communication can’t stave off screw-ups and missteps, blunders and confusion, and some good old-fashioned jealousy. Loosely built around Izzy’s search for her first sexual partner — part of a pact she made with the more vivacious Fiona, one kept oddly secret from trustworthy Anuka — the film’s ambling plot eventually finds direction when the girls discover the existence of a “Crush Party” being held on the last night of their freshman year. It’s a simple scheme: submit your crush’s name, and they’ll get an invite; if you get one, too, maybe you’ll finally get a chance to tell them how you feel at the gathering.
Despite this simple setup (and very clear motivations for its characters), Cohn’s film is prone to diversions and tangents that suggest it might be more successful as an episodic series. Mostly centered on Izzy, “CRSHD” often spins out to see what Fiona is doing (Scott is, at least, very fun to watch), including a convoluted subplot about her job at a local bowling alley, or trails off after Anuka, who has boy trouble of her own (which only gets interesting when it folds in Izzy). The central party is even abandoned at what one point so that Anuka and Izzy can take part in a bizarre outing with a pair of random dudes who have nothing to do with the plot (or, really, Anuka and Izzy).
Sharp humor bolsters those flagging sequences, along with Cohn’s canny treatment of social media as its characters’ primary means of communication. At just 81 minutes, the film’s sagging middle soon gives way to a zippy and very funny final act, which ties up big plot points while still hinting at more adventures to come for its charming trio. A promise made to FaceTime over the summer even does something wild: makes viewers want to digitally drop in on those next steps, longing for a connection to three heroines worth the follow.
“CRSHD” will be available via virtual cinema on Friday, May 8.