How Hulu's Quirky Queer Rom-Com 'Crush' Built Its Sapphic Utopia
The 'Crush' writers, Kirsten King and Casey Rackham, discuss penning the lesbian rom-com they would have loved to see as teens.
The girlies really do run the world in Hulu's new rom-com Crush. Megan Mullally is a proud single mom by choice, Michelle Buteau is a high school principal, and the teens who roam the halls of Miller High School are so openly queer that the one straight couple is respectfully tokenized. In other words, Crush features the kind of sapphic, matriarchal utopia that dreams are made of.
By queering rom-com tropes, and by being endlessly charming, Crush—directed by Sammi Cohen and executive produced by the likes of Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph—feels refreshingly novel. For the movie's co-writers, Kirsten King and Casey Rackham, they set out to write "the high school we wish we had, where queer kids can be the coolest kids in school," King says over Zoom. Building out its world where women hold key positions of power and non-binary people are featured prominently was simply natural in telling the story they wanted to tell. "It wasn't a conscious choice," Rackham says. "That's who we wrote because that's who we're surrounded by, mostly women. And then just naturally anything Kirsten and I do is going to be really queer."
That extends to the cast, crew, and music selections as well: "One stipulation up front with our producers is we want queer actors to be playing the queer roles," King says. "It's something that seems very easy and should be the default, but it's something you have to push for." That search led to casting the movie's leads, Disney Channel's Girl Meets World starlet Rowan Blanchard as Paige, an aspiring painter, and Auli'i Cravalho, best known as the voice of the titular Moana who is also starring in Amazon's upcoming series The Power, as the skateboarding, backwards hat-wearing AJ. Blanchard came out at just 14 years old in 2016, and Cravalho in 2020 with a TikTok video. Along with Cohen, they pushed to feature as many queer musicians as possible on the soundtrack; Crush starts and ends with twee-as-fuck songs from Mal Blum and Jax Anderson, whom King and Rackham count as friends. "It makes a difference when it's written and directed by queer women," King adds. "The vibes are different."
King and Rackham first met seven years ago working on the editorial team at BuzzFeed and started a queer writing group four years ago where things really began to click. "We started shouting out what our commonalities were in our high school experience," King says of their first night brainstorming, a few martinis deep. "We both did track, my best friends on the track team were twins, Casey and her sister are both queer, I grew up with a single mom. So it became this hybrid of our own personal experiences." At the same time, "we really just wanted to create this world devoid of the coming out trauma and just make it about who these kids were as people."
In Crush, Paige desperately wants to be accepted into the competitive Cal Arts summer program, but is utterly uninspired by the application prompt depicting her "happiest moment." Told by her principal that her lack of extracurriculars won't help her chances of getting in, and because she's under suspicion for vandalizing school property as the elusive street artist King Pun, Paige declares that she "plays track" and joins the team's tryouts.
Proving herself as mostly abysmal at every event, Paige is forced under the tutelage of AJ, the twin sister of her lifelong crush, the tall and bubbly Gabriella (Isabella Ferreira), to run the 4x4 relay. Naturally, things get complicated in the satisfying way that great rom-coms do with plenty of modern flourishes along the way. Take, for instance, one of the movie's big classic party scenes where the track team parties in a hotel room and plays Seven Minutes (NOT In Heaven, which "perpetuates a Christian narrative," and no one is forced to make out "because it's 2022"), where Paige and AJ are paired up and break the tension with random animal facts. "All the animal facts in the movie are our own personal animal facts," Rackham says. "Kirsten said the wild squirrel line to me once after we were writing, and I was like, 'okay, well, that's going in the script.'"
"I'm very afraid of wronging a squirrel because of their photographic memory," King adds. "I never make eye contact with them on the street because of that."
Both King and Rackham are huge fans of '90s and early 2000s rom-coms—Rackham cites 10 Things I Hate About You and Love & Basketball—and set out "to emulate that feeling of early '90s nostalgia, but also speaking to a Gen Z audience and giving them credit for how evolved they are," King says, and it shows. The teens in Crush are empathetic, socially progressive, and universally accepting; plus, it's just a damn good rom-com. "Hopefully it won't be referred to for forever as the 'queer rom-com,'" Rackham says. "There'll be so many that you'll be like, 'Which one?'"