Monday, April 15, 2019

THE CRUSH 1993

The Crush is Trash Cinema in its purest, most uproariously unregenerate form. For try as I might to ascribe seriousness of intent to this overheated opus involving a neglected teen’s serial attachment to surrogate father figures; accredit forethought to the extended Frankenstein metaphor wherein accelerated physical and intellectual development fatally presumes a corresponding emotional maturity; or even shoehorn in an indictment of our culture’s tolerance for the sexualizing of adolescent girls…it’s all for naught. The Crush is never more than what it aspires to be in the moment, and utterly what it appears to be on the surface: a 100% empty-calorie, all-cheese buffet with nary an ounce of socially redeeming value to be found in its economic (nay, rushed) 89-minute running time.
The MTV-era lovechild of Cinemax and the Lifetime Network, The Crush is a high-concept, low-class I Was a Teenage Fatal Attraction cash-grab calculated to ride the crest of that ‘90s wave of benign-appearing psychopath-style thrillers popularized by Basic Instinct, Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and Poison Ivy. A campy, by-the-numbers genre thriller about a precocious 14-year-old who develops an obsessive crush on the 28-year-old journalist renting her parents’ guest house, The Crush is sleazy as hell, yet manages to show—for an exploitation film, anyway—surprising restraint. Sure, its pervy screenplay mines every wishful-thinking “jailbait” clich√© known to man, yet it somehow manages to avoid falling prey to the kind of distasteful explicitness and easy vulgarity its porny premise suggests (or its producers would have liked).

In lieu of explicitness, The Crush instead opts for a kind of moral schizophrenia that's committed to playing both sides of the film's Penthouse Forum scenario. On the one hand, the film aggressively sexualizes the character played by 16-year-old Alicia Silverstone and invites the viewer to share its leering, ogling gaze. Yet at the same time, the film tries to convince us it also condemns the hypersexualization of young girls and their bodies (none too convincingly, I might add). Thus, I can only presume the other hand—primed and at the ready—is left free for wrist-slapping when viewers figure out that they've been made complicit.

The debut feature of Disney Channel director Alan Shapiro, The Crush was filmed in Vancouver, B.C. on a budget of $6 million and featured no marquee names in the cast. Alicia Silverstone was making her film debut, and star Cary Elwes, who was somewhat hot at the time, had appeared to favorable effect in The Princess Bride (1987), the Top Gun spoof Hot Shots! (1991) and Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). But I'm not sure if The Crush represented an ascension or a downslide in his career trajectory. I say this because The Crush has the feel of one of those interchangeable straight-to-video erotic thrillers in which you expect to see either Shannon Tweed or Richard Grieco. I suspect The Crush avoided such a fate due to its timeliness. It came out at the peak of the public’s feeding frenzy fascination with the sordid Joey Buttafuoco/Amy Fisher “Long Island Lolita” sleaze-fest that clogged the media and dominated tabloid headlines in 1992.
Cary Elwes as Nicholas Eliot
Alicia Silverstone as Adrian/Darian Forrester
Jennifer Rubin as Amy Maddik

Having landed a plum writing gig at trendy Pique Magazine, hotshot investigative journalist Nick Eliot (the British Elwes, on the losing end of a battle with an American accent) packs everything he owns into the back of his vintage Plymouth Valiant convertible and moves to Vancouver--standing in for Seattle, Washington, I think. In no time he rents a picturesque above-garage apartment in a tony suburban neighborhood from a busy professional couple with a precocious 14-year-old daughter (Silverstone) named Adrian...or Darian if you’re a lip-reader) who almost immediately develops a crush on the new tenant. The adolescent flirtation that starts out innocently, if invasively, enough with the besotted teen gifting Nick a set of clip-on sunglasses (sweet), moving on to surreptitiously rewriting one of his magazine articles for the better (out of line), culminating in her pouring her heart out to him about how tough it is to be a pulchritudinous, 14-year-old virgin genius who’s also a piano prodigy, seasoned equestrian, and entomology expert (creepy).
For his part, Nick goes from flattered, to annoyed, to empathetic, to finally settling firmly in on idiocy. The latter to the point of allowing things with Adrian to go as far as finger-sucking (who among us hasn’t let an infatuated middle-adolescent tongue our cuticles?) followed by a wildly inappropriate kiss. Snapping to his senses, Nick is quick to establish firm, distinct boundaries for the teen…but only after circumstance and his own profound stupidity have him sneaking into Adrian’s house, catching a gawking glimpse of her discarded panties, and “accidentally” watching her fully undress from the vantage point of his hiding place inside her louvered door closet.

Now more convinced than ever that her feelings for Nick are fully reciprocated, Adrian the Equestrian comes to regard his eleventh-hour protestations and capitulations to propriety as little more than what they probably are: guilt-based, locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, ploys (or zipping the fly after the…well, you get the idea). Alas, by the time Adrian’s feelings have grown so strong that she feels comfortable greeting the judgment-challenged writer with a cheery “Hello, Nicholas darling!” Nick has moved on past unintended teen teasing and has embarked on a more age-appropriate romance with an associate from work, photojournalist Amy Maddik.
"Nick, I've been there. You have to be the adult. you can't blur the line."

Stinging from the potential threat of Nick’s new girlfriend (“Oh, don’t worry, Amy. Some guys really like girls with small breasts!”) and seething with resentment over Nick’s rebuff of her advances (“Too busy kissing ass to care about me, is that it?"), Adrian Forrester, is left with no choice but to go full Alex Forrest (her homage namesake Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) on the pair.

Consistently silly and flagrantly derivative (it’s Fatal Attraction by way of Lolita and The Bad Seed ) it perhaps goes without saying that I find The Crush to be also ceaselessly entertaining and irresistible as all get-out. Serving up sizable chunks cheese, sleaze, and of lurid camp, The Crush is absolutely fabulous without ever really being any good. It's a film that cries out for the MST3K treatment and one whose entertainment value increases exponentially in direct proportion to how many other people you see it with. It's a guaranteed good time so long as you take care not to allow certain things to intrude upon your viewing experience that might tend to spoil your fun…like your brain.
Adrian and her friend Cheyenne (Amber Benson) spy on Nick.
Teenage crushes have really come a long way since The World of Henry Orient (1964)

I didn’t get around to actually seeing The Crush until it was released on VHS cassette in 1995, by which time not only had word got around that the film was a tawdry hoot, but Alicia Silverstone had gone on to become the queen of MTV by way of a trio of heavy-rotation music videos she appeared in for the band Aerosmith. The Crush wasn't very popular on initial release (it has since developed a cult following) but MTV's shameless hyping of Silverstone was instrumental in her landing two MTV Movie Awards (Best Villain and Best Breakthrough Performance) for a movie nobody saw. Things picked up for Silverstone when she was cast in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995), and just as quickly went south for her when she appeared as Batgirl in the deservedly ill-fated Batman and Robin (1997).
The movie is about Adrian's crush on Nick, yet it's her body that's the most consistent object of the camera's objectification. We're granted just one scene in which we're invited to share Adrian's POV: as she spies on Nick naked in the shower. 

I wasn't terribly surprised by how much I liked The Crush, for I'm one who never got over Mamie Van Doren’s retirement, mourned the demise of the Reform School Girl B-picture genre, and pine for the days when underground films by Andy Warhol and John Waters spoofed Hollywood trash, not Hollywood itself.  Happily, Silverstone's pouty pariah seems to be channeling Ann-Margret in Kitten With a Whip (1964) by way of Joey Heatherton in Where Love Has Gone (also 1964. It was a very good year for bad girls). And while the menace of Silverstone's characterization never reaches the delirious heights of kung-fu Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls; by way of compensation, we get to read a lot into the way she's been directed to tilt her head a lot and peer over the top of her sunglasses.
In the VHS copy of The Crush I saw lo those many years ago, Silverstone’s character was named Darian. That's because director/screenwriter Alan Shapiro based The Crush on an actual event he experienced when he was a struggling writer renting a guest-house from a family in Beverly Hills in 1982. When the family’s teenage daughter (who happened to be named Darian) developed a crush on him, his snubbing of her attentions resulted in the retaliatory act of her carving an obscenity into the paint of his car (a scene recreated in the film). Shapiro left not long thereafter, but he used the incident as a springboard for his screenplay for The Crush, even going so far as to keep the girl’s name the same (understandable, given how it suggests Damien, the name of the Antichrist in The Omen).
What's in a Name?
The digital transformation of Darien Forrester to Adrian Forrester is smoother than the dubbing.
None of the original actors were brought back to rerecord their lines.
But verisimilitude has its price. Especially when said teen is depicted as homicidal and seriously off her nut. Sometime after the film's release, the parents of the real-life Darian hit Shapiro and Warner Bros. with a libel lawsuit, a term of the out-of-court settlement being that the character’s name had to be changed in all subsequent prints. Thus, in future VHS copies and once The Crush began showing up on TV, Laserdisc, and DVD, Darian became Adrian and all references to and appearances of it in the film had to be dubbed over or digitally altered. I can’t imagine this costly development didn't piss the producers off (You mean to tell me you used the girl’s ACTUAL NAME?!), which might go explain why Shapiro’s directing career came to a grinding halt after directing just one other feature: Flipper (1996).
"Some friggin' kid will be standing there with a hardon sticking out of his pants!"
Kurtwood Smith as Adrian's father wields a pair of pliers as he engages Nick in a cringe-creepy conversation about how his daughter has "blossomed physically" over the past year and how he dreads the day suitors come a-courtin'.
Maybe we've found the source of Adrian's psychosis.

Before I saw The Crush, the purposeful evocation of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) in both its marketing campaign and the casting of Sue Lyon lookalike Alicia Silverstone had me wondering (fool that I am) if perhaps the thriller might be some kind of a subversive upending of the whole Lolita Myth (the sexually predatory child who looks and behaves older than their actual age). Maybe even a parable indictment of our culture’s endorsement of the sexual “adultification” of adolescent girls (√† la Brooke Shields and Nastassja Kinski) and blaming them for enticing hapless, innocent men. 
Boy, was I barking up the wrong tree.

Alicia Silverstone was 15-years-old when cast in her debut film (16 when production began)
Sue Lyon was 14-years-old when cast in her film debut (15 when production began)

The truth is that The Crush is like the Reefer Madness of The Lolita Myth. Female and male are vixen and victim in a stacked-deck narrative that has the character of Adrian depicted as a child only when the film wants to play up the taboo, schoolgirl fetish angle of the story (her ultra-girly bedroom, overflowing with stuffed animals and floral patterns, looks like it belongs to a 10-year-old). In all other ways, the viewer is encouraged to see her as a woman.
Because we never see her interact with boys her own age (ostensibly because they find her intelligence off-putting) and because her attractiveness and healthy interest in boys/men are never contextualized, Adrian's budding sexuality is never framed in terms of adolescent normalcy.
Attractive Nuisance
The Crush understands and exploits (but has no opinion about) the fetishizing
of youth and how it feeds into the taboo allure of adolescent sexuality

The non-logic of The Lolita Myth never faults the tempted...all blame falls to the object of desire. A young, attractive girl who dares recognize her own sexuality is seen as a risk and a threat simply by her existence. Even without action on her part, a woman or girl's body is imbued with the power to bait, tease, lure, and temp. The Crush ratchets up the absurdity of this misogynist conceit into a worst-case-scenario fantasy in which assertive female sexuality is not only toxic, it's homicidal.

The photo of Nick's journalist grandfather is actually The Crush's cinematographer Bruce Surtees with his grandchild (judging by the different lighting, I'd guess with the head of Elwes as a child grafted over the little boy). The late Oscar-nominated Bruce Surtees (Lenny - 1974) also shot the films Night Moves, Play Misty For Me, and Sparkle

While the film plays fast and loose with making Silverstone look girlish or womanly depending on what message they're trying to send to males in the audience ("You lucky dog!" vs "Better stay away from that young stuff, they're nothing but trouble!"), its treatment of Cary Elwes is pretty consistent: he's a dope who gets duped.

Though Nick has the professional reputation of being a bulldog investigative reporter (suggesting shrewd intelligence and a certain assertiveness), Adrian is the one with all the guile and cunning. Outfitted with goofy spectacles and dressed in oversized clothes that make him look like a little boy who's raided his father's closet, Nick may sneak peeks at Adrian sunbathing, or need to take a shot of vodka to clear his head after getting all hot and sweaty after a don't-stand-so-close-to-me encounter with a girl half his age; but in the lunatic confines of this thriller, he's Little Red Riding Hood, she's The Big Bad Wolf.
In a nod to Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951),
a merry-go-round figures into the climax of The Crush

Guileless to the point of being a bit of a dunderhead, it’s made clear that Nick has no real interest in Adrian (her crush flatters his ego), just as it’s also obvious he finds her attractive: Nick - “If you were 10 years older….” Adrian - “You’d what?”
But the film sympathizes with Nick in a way it never does with Adrian, its attitude being: what’s a healthy, red-blooded, American-British boy to do when confronted with a steady stream of provocatively exposed flesh accompanied by shy flirtations?: “Nick…ever do a virgin? I know you want to.
Movie tradition allows for leading men to wear glasses only when a character is called upon to look older, smarter, or vulnerable. Cary Elwes' owlish spectacles have the effect of making him appear harmless, bookish, and younger. He reminds me of the animated character Milo Thatch from Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Were The Crush a better-made movie, I think I’d have found its alarmist view of female sexuality obnoxious. Instead, the film's cluelessness (heh, heh) winds up being its asset. A work of glossy slickness, The Crush reminds me of the time my sister sought to extend the play life of her older, balding, Barbie doll by removing its head and replacing it with a newer one. It's hard to be offended by The Crush because it isn’t really about anything; it’s just Fatal Attraction with a younger head attached.
Possession Obsession
An homage to Fatal Attraction's iconic "lamp switch" scene. 

Complete with stuffed bunny rabbit 



BONUS MATERIAL
If you're a fan of thrillers and are in the market for a movie that head-on confronts all the subtextual creepiness The Crush sidesteps, I'd recommend Hard Candy (2005) starring Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. Not for the faint-of-heart, but a real jolt of a suspense thriller.

Copyright © Ken Anderson