Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Taking a chance on love

Andie MacDowell goes for a walk on the young-stud side.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2002 at 12:00 AM

In the lush rolling hills and countryside of England, we meet the “us” in Crush: Kate (Andie MacDowell), the kind-eyed, “conservative before her time” schoolmistress; Janine (Imelda Staunton), the wishy-washy, “whatever you say Molly,” sensitivity-advanced she-cop; and Molly (Anna Chancellor), the “in the medical field for the money” ice queen. They’re three single women over 40 in a regular bullshit session, swapping pathetic stories to see who the “saddest fuck of the week” is.

This week, hanging out in a baby-clothes store, then going home alone to smoke and listen to music wins Kate the box of caramels. Yet divine intervention soon changes Kate’s fate. Walking around with a cache of tears just below the skin, seemingly kept at bay by smoking, she attends a funeral and meets Jed, the replacement organist (ha), and a former student of Kate’s who’s all grown-up and sexy as hell. Later, she confesses to her friends, “I think I had sex with a 25-year-old yesterday on a tombstone.” By acting completely out of character, and not regretting it in the least, Kate upsets the frustrated, yet comfortable, lonely, over-the-hill camaraderie by getting lucky.

European filmmakers sure seem to like all-American Andie MacDowell, sporting her in the British film Four Weddings and a Funeral, the French-directed Harrison’s Flowers and back to Britain again with Crush. Although she does well (and I mean well) through most of the film, crying at the touch of the organ’s keys, her acting skills can’t take the strain of high-intensity scenes. Maybe her cute American accent masks her inability to reach thespian crescendos; still, she’s an interesting contrast to Anna Chancellor’s portrayal of the thrice-divorced Molly.

Chancellor plays a bitter bitch so well she’s frightening, gliding through Crush like a piranha, each line of dialogue delivered like a dagger-jab to the gut. Like her response to her date when he tells her he’s not paying and not having sex by orders of his therapist: “What the fuck use are you then?”

Imelda Staunton has a respectable résumé, having appeared in Shakespeare in Love, Much Ado About Nothing and Sense and Sensibility; however in this film her talents are used for invisibility as Janine, who’s there (but she’s not) along for the ride sitting behind all of Molly’s opinions. And all it takes is one hot stud to upset the mundane lives of three experienced women.

Kenny Doughty (Titus) is fully equipped to play Jed. He carries himself like an overconfident British James Dean with bedroom eyes and speaks with a combination of “I’ve been around the block” cocky manner and a sly sincerity.

This is John McKay’s first feature film and it’s surprising that a man chose to write and direct a script focused around and directed toward older women. From the look of it, a 15-year-plus age discrepancy in a relationship seems to ruffle a flock of feathers in a tight-knit town in England, accounting for some of Kate’s friends’ lack of support.

Kate is attracted to Jed for obvious reasons: He’s young, gorgeous, vital, and the sex is great and plentiful. But what’s in it for Jed? Although Kate is a beautiful older woman, she’s very conservative and inexperienced with relationships. Is he attracted to the security of Kate as a mother-teacher figure? Is he just living out a fantasy crush he had as her student, having some temporary fun? Is he in it for the wrong reasons, and what makes a reason wrong? Since Jed’s motivations aren’t readily available, it leaves room for Anna to wedge in her jealousy, masked as concern for her friend, and the fissure begins.

Crush swings anywhere from girl’s-night-in to Romeo and Juliet to Paris shopping spree to schlocky sentimentality to “stop me, I’m insane with grief” to overriding sap to “it’s a new day, it’s a new life” then back to girl’s-night-in. So much is hurled at you that by the end of the film you feel like you’ve been beaten up. Like an old ’40s film, it’s not afraid to whisk through a lifetime of experience in two hours, emotionally towing you through Shakespearean high drama and angst, all the way to TV-sitcom goofy.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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