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Los Angeles Times

Movie review, 'Crush'

The romantic-comedy genre now relies so much on stock characters and cliched bittersweet situations, outlined in broad strokes, that there are no jolts of real recognition. A romantic comedy that twists these conventions is rare and refreshing. "Crush" mixes slapstick, poignancy, tragedy and sophisticated wit. It delivers quite a bang for the movie buck and marks a welcome return to the roots of a genre that should depend on surprise as it finds humor in the foibles of human behavior.

When we first meet Kate (Andie MacDowell), the headmistress of a starched school in the English countryside, she's scolding a student for smoking cigarettes. That Kate later lights up a smoke from the student's purloined pack is the first amusing indicator that she isn't going to be easy to define - and neither is the film. Kate, an American expatriate, hangs with a couple of chums to smoke, drink and dish. These are 40-something women caught between social conventions and expectations and their own sense of selfhood and accomplishments, and the script finds the humor and the conflict inherent in this very contemporary dilemma. Janine (Imelda Staunton) is a divorced mother who makes her living as a cop; Molly (Anna Chancellor) is a doctor with a history of dysfunctional relationships.

"Crush" occasionally treads into simplistic over-the-hill-at-40 humor, but the three stars, with their ease and sexy maturity, manage not to condescend to their characters or push them into caricature.

Kate upsets this complex sisterly union when she finds a renewed sense of adventure and sexuality in a liaison with Jed (Kenny Doughty), a former student who's now the organist at the campus chapel. Jed's boyish appeal and the sensitivity he displays in his musings about the power of music make it easy to understand Kate's attraction. More humorous and touching is the way she feels embarrassed by it, hiding the relationship from her girlfriends and the entire village. When Molly and Janine discover Kate's secret, they try to bust up the couple under the misguided idea of wanting to save their friend from humiliation and heartbreak.

By setting the film in the quaint English Cotswolds, writer/director McKay creates a luminous, old-fashioned world tethered to social ritual and convention, a Jane Austen-inspired world where single, sexual career-women challenge the status quo by their very existence. The cast is uniformly strong, but it is MacDowell who shines in her best role since "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Her Kate emerges as a complex woman who survives life's comic and tragic slings and arrows, making "Crush" a surprising and delightful romantic take on modern women.

3 stars

Written and directed by John McKay; photographed by Henry Braham; edited by Anne Sopel; production designed by Amanda MacArthur; music by Kevin Sargent; produced by Lee Thomas. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday, April 12. Running time: 1:55. MPAA rating: R (sexuality, language).
Kate - Andie MacDowell
Janine - Imelda Staunton
Molly - Anna Chancellor
Jed - Kenny Doughty
Gerald - Bill Paterson

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