Sony // 2001 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // October 4th, 2002
Could Mr. Wrong actually be...Mr. Right?
No. He could not. Because Mr. Wrong is John McKay, the man who wrote and directed this aimless, misanthropic picture. Judging from his initial foray into feature filmmaking, McKay can't do much of anything right.
American expatriate Kate Scales (Andie MacDowell, Town And Country, sex, lies and videotape) lays down the law as the well-respected headmistress of a secondary school in an English country village. All buttoned-up and businesslike on the school grounds, in her private life Kate is a lonely woman who hangs out with fellow fortysomethings Molly, the town physician (Anna Chancellor, who co-starred with MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral), and Janine, the police chief (Imelda Staunton, Shakespeare in Love, Sense And Sensibility), commiserating over gin and chocolate bars about their miserable experiences with men.
Miserable, that is, until Kate encounters Jed Willis (Kenny Doughty, Titus), a 25-year-old substitute organist filling in at the local church. (You only thought you left behind insipid jokes revolving around the dual meaning of the word "organ" when you graduated from junior high. Little did you know that the writers of major motion pictures remain fascinated with such juvenile anatomical humor. Very fascinated.) Eleven years ago, Jed was a student in Kate's English class. Now, he's teaching her -- mostly about the joys of amore al fresco in the cemetery, romping in the rectory, and gettin' jiggy wit' it (or whatever it is those stuffy Brits do) in the back seat of a blue Volvo station wagon.
Molly and Janine do not approve. To put it mildly. They would rather see Kate reciprocate the obvious interest of Gerald Marsden (Bill Paterson, Sunshine, Spice World), the pastor of the church where Jed plays, than indulge the passions of the flesh with a man young enough to be her...well...much younger brother. Kate is unmoved by her girlfriends' objections: Gerald is stable and stalwart, but not exactly Mr. Excitement, while Jed rocks Kate's world (not to mention her Volvo).
Molly decides that desperate situations require desperate measures, so she and the reluctant Janine conspire to sabotage Kate's fling with "Billy Crush" (as Molly caustically refers to Jed) and put some sense back into her head. But the best-laid plans of mice, men and catty, jealous women gang aft agley, as Burns once wrote.
Hollywood has proven that a variety of entertaining, even thought-provoking, films can be fashioned around the challenges of an older woman/younger man romance: In The Bedroom, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, even White Palace. (Yeah, I know, a lot of critics hated it. I thought it had its moments.)
So what happened here? Rarely have I seen as ill-advised a series of cinematic choices being made as happens in the third reel of Crush. A movie that starts off merely tepid, derivative and bland takes a hard right turn along the Cliffs of Despair and plunges wildly off into the Chasm of Manipulative Melodrama. Or, to put it another way, soap opera actors screening this film would look at each other in open-mouthed disbelief and ask, "Who would believe THAT?"
First-time screenwriter/director John McKay does just about everything wrong in Crush's final act that can be done wrong, including:
(1) Pointlessly killing off the one character no one watching really cares
about (mainly because the director makes it impossible for the audience to
establish any emotional link with this character);
(2) Demanding behavior on the part of all but one of the surviving characters that causes the viewer to abandon any remaining pretense of caring about any of them;
(3) Treating the only character who hasn't become either hateful or deceased in such a callous, cruel manner as to render that character irredeemably pathetic;
(4) Resurrecting one of the most trite and irritating plot clichés in modern cinema;
(5) Imposing a resolution on several of the major relationships in the film that can only be explained if the characters involved are really aliens from another planet.
I can't explain what any of these things mean in detail without spoiling the movie for you. But permit me to assure you that McKay has already spoiled the movie for you by writing this ridiculous potboiler of a script. It's almost as if he sat through a screening of Four Weddings and a Funeral, gauged the positive audience reaction, and said to himself, "All right, if I have weddings, funerals, gauzy panoramas of the British countryside, and maybe Andie MacDowell and that slinky brunette woman, people will like my movie too."
Problem is, Four Weddings and a Funeral -- as lame as I thought it was -- at least knew what it was. Crush at first appears as though it wants to be a comedy -- if only a banal, unfunny one -- but ends up doing such vicious things to its characters, both through their interactions with each other and by plot machinations, that we stop laughing before we really begin. Crush is a lush, delightfully textured movie visually, set amid some of the loveliest scenery to be found anywhere, with its green valleys and picturesque little village (cinematographer Henry Braham has lensed flicks far superior to this, including Waking Ned Devine and the powerful Shackleton). But behind the pictures sits an empty shell.
Andie MacDowell, an arch, angular actress endowed with the charisma of drying enamel, plays Crush's central character as though any display of genuine emotion would lower her fee. Why doesn't the film ever explain to us who this woman is, and why she's here? A schoolteacher from the American South who's lived in the backwater hamlets of the Sceptered Isle for at least a decade -- what circumstances of life brought her to this place, and why has she stayed so long away from her homeland? Oops, sorry. That's beginning to sound like an actual story. My mistake.
The supporting cast around MacDowell is, thankfully, better than she. Both Anna Chancellor and Imelda Staunton are fine actresses who impart to this material what threadbare life they can. Unfortunately, Chancellor is saddled with a despicable character, and Staunton doesn't have much to do except play the dumpy foil to the other two women.
As for the masculine contingent, both Kenny Doughty as the bumpkin boytoy and Bill Paterson as the colorless cleric turn in decent if thankless work, but these are straw men, not three-dimensional characters. We never have any inkling -- aside from raging hormones -- why an educated, mature woman such as Kate would be irresistibly drawn to this crude, ill-mannered urchin. Nor do we ever see any reason why her friends would keep pushing dull-as-dishwater Gerald at Kate, who's clearly not interested. If either of them believes Gerald's so great a catch, why aren't they pursuing him themselves?
At any rate, it hardly matters. Anyone in the audience with two brain cells to rub together checked out of this mess long before McKay thoroughly derails it two-thirds of the way in. And make no mistake -- you only think you've seen a plot unravel if you haven't yet witnessed the jackknifed bigrig that is Crush.
For its part, Columbia TriStar (under its Sony Pictures Classics masthead) lavishes middling enthusiasm on the DVD release of this backfire. The anamorphic transfer is typical Columbia: clean, brightly hued, and redolent with edge enhancement, though somewhat less of the latter than I've observed on other Sony discs. A grainy source print translates into an acceptable but less than stellar presentation of the striking scenery found throughout the film. Contrasts are sharp but sufficiently balanced to preserve the painterly manner in which the film was shot. Accurate fleshtones abound, digital defects don't, and the depth of visual field is rather remarkable for a movie that relies more on characters than the Big Picture.
The soundtrack is likewise of reasonable if unimpressive quality. There's a lot of talking in Crush -- amateurishly scripted, but plenty of it nonetheless -- and there's no difficulty hearing all the dialogue. Given the genre, there's not a wealth of sonic interest, but Kevin Sargent's pleasant score ebbs and swells at the appropriate moments.
Supplemental content goes lacking here. But then, how much more time will anyone wish to spend basking in the nonexistent glow of this movie? So Columbia TriStar lets us off the hook easy, with a brief (six and one-half minutes) and doggedly unmemorable press-kit featurette (although it's presented in widescreen -- an unexpected plus). The disc is capped off with the film's theatrical trailer, and trailers for three more pictures I doubt I will enjoy any more than I did Crush.
Too often in today's cinema we are treated -- if that's the word -- to the spectacle of older actors (defined as older than I am) wrapped in passionate embraces with actresses half their age, or even less. I've lost more than one hearty breakfast over a shirtless near-septuagenarian clinched up with some thirtyish woman (In the Line of Fire and True Crime, to cite but two examples from the Clint Eastwood oeuvre alone). How refreshing to see a director take a risk showing the reverse of that tired equation...and how disappointing to see something as flawed as Crush be the end result.
We have too many marvelous actresses of "a certain age" these days to deny them more opportunities to demonstrate that genuine beauty, our youth-obsessed culture to the contrary, is not a factor of the calendar. But it would be a shame to see those opportunities, and those actresses, tossed away on inept junk like this.
Interviewed in the promotional featurette, John McKay remarks, "Women are just more interesting than men." All McKay proves with Crush is that women can be just as stupid and soporific as men, especially with a man behind the keyboard and camera.
There's a satisfying story to be told about this situation, and maybe even about these people. Crush, however, isn't it. I had high hopes that all this gorgeous pastoral landscape and quaint English architecture might amount to something. I guess John McKay and I have something in common: I wasn't Mr. Right either. And the way the last half-hour of Crush devolves, I'm not sure who could have been.
Memo from the bench to John McKay: the next time you decide to plunder the good ideas -- and stars -- from someone else's movie, try not to add any lousy ideas of your own. In the meantime, the Court finds you guilty of underestimating (and thereby insulting) your audience, and women in particular. You're sentenced to attend four more weddings, and your own film's funeral. We're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site
* The World's Largest Organs