Crush Screenwriters Talk Writing a Queer Rom-Com for Teens

ItYou have many options. Crush, a love story starring Rowan Blanchard and Auli’I Cravalho, is like every other teen rom-com—and that’s part of what makes it exceptional.

We live in an age of more discriminatory and violent antiLGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation. Crush,Hulu’s new show, “Blissful Hour and a Half” offers viewers an hour-and-a-half of sweet, intelligent, and queer escapism. It is available today. It follows Paige (Blanchard), an awkward lesbian artist attending the somewhat utopian Miller High, who’s tasked with distilling her “happiest moment” into a painting for a college program application. Paige is inspired by Gabby, her former track coach and co-captain. An ultimatum from her school principal forces Paige to sign up for the team. But the coach pairs Paige with Gabby’s sister AJ (Cravalho) as a training partner instead. And all at once, Paige finds herself working with AJ to unmask a mysterious artist who’s been spray-painting school property, trying to figure out how to run more than five feet without falling on her face, and maybe just learning what love feels like.

If it all sounds a bit convoluted, that’s because it is—it’s a teen rom-com, after all. It’s supposed to be a little over the top. Screenwriters Casey Rackham, Kirsten King and others were careful to stick with the conventions. “We wanted a rom-com where they all just happen to be extremely queer,” Rackham says.

Continue reading:Here are The Top Teen Rom-Coms

Screens are showing more LGBTQ+ stories than ever. Many of these focus on coming out. It is an emotional experience that can be difficult, but it does not give a complete picture of the reality of being queer. It is written Crush, the first-time screenwriters and former BuzzFeed colleagues hoped to offer another slice of the experience—their film is designed to be comfort food for queer people, envisioned through the lens of the genre they both love.

TIME spoke to the Los Angeles-based screenwriters regarding writing their high school rom-com. They also discussed streaming’s value and what Hollywood’s queer storytellers owe each other.

How did you get to this point?

Casey Rackham After meeting at BuzzFeed we formed a group of queer writers. We were both obsessed with rom-coms, and then there was that fateful moment, like in a movie, where we make eye contact and are like, “Wait… should we?”

Kirsten King:We just had to see it. To All the Boys I’ve Loved BeforeWe were always rewatching 10 Things That I Hate About Yourself, Love & Basketball, some of those early-2000s, late-’90s rom-coms. And we were asking, Why don’t we have this for queer people? We have been projecting our romances onto straight people’s stories for our entire lives. Our journey began with the writing of our first novel. [Crush]It was a great night. Then we said that although it might never be sold, this could help heal a part of us high school selfs who needed it. It’s so exciting that people responded to it, because it came from such a place of passion.

Is there anything in your life that inspired you to make the film?

Rackham: We can’t both paint. We’re both actively bad at it. We were both on the right track.

King: We set up a large whiteboard and drank martinis as we began to talk about the story. Then we discovered queer track. Casey has a queer brother, my best friend was on the track team in high school. And I grew up living with a single mother. So there’s little pieces of both of us in all the characters’ stories.

I couldn’t help thinking about my high-school self, and what watching this movie would’ve meant to me. Both Sammi Cohen and I have spoken about this. What does it feel like to have written a film so many people needed as kids, knowing it’s still necessary today, in the era of “Don’t Say Gay” bills?

King: There’s so much anti-LGBTQ legislation right now. Miller High is so different than most high schools across the United States. For a big portion of our population, that’s not the reality. The script had a lot of joy. Being queer was celebrated in this story, which made you the most liked girl at school. It isn’t about coming out or dealing with the trauma.

Rackham: Right. Right. Love, SimonWith my mother. That was my mom. Love, Simon. However, I have also seen the criticism that this was meant for people who are not straight. I wished my mom could watch something that wasn’t centered around a coming-out story, that shows we’re okay. Kirsten and I have gotten messages from people saying, “It’s been tough for me where I live. I’m so excited to watch this.” And that truly means the world to us. Based on all the legislation we’re seeing, we unfortunately have so far to go.

King: And we wanted it to be on a streamer, because if we’re being honest, it’s so hard if you’re living in a conservative area with your parents, to buy a ticket to a queer movie. This way, someone can watch it in their bedroom and imagine this life where they’re comfortable and accepted. That’s really powerful.

Apart from romantic relationships, the movie features many other lovely relationships. Paige’s relationship with her almost-too-supportive mom, Angie, is so fun. AJ, Gabby, and Gabby engage in a hard conversation about how they balance love with competition. This conversation feels extremely grounded.

Rackham:Kirsten and me both are sisters. I enjoy writing about our sisters. That scene with AJ and Gabby is a favorite of both ours. It’s actually the first scene where Paige isn’t really involved, and it’s so real and raw, and something every pair of sisters have gone through, no matter their sexuality or circumstances.

King: The dynamic between Paige and Angie—and oh my God, I can’t think of a better person to play Paige’s mom than Megan Mullally, just a gay icon—was really important to me. My mom was the only person I had in my childhood. She was there through everything, even breast cancer. That’s what I think of when I think of home. My mom didn’t have me by a sperm donor [like Paige’s mom]. However, it was refreshing to see a single woman make that decision for herself. In our generation, that’s a conversation a lot of people are having—whether having children alone is something they want. It was great to redefine the definition of family.

What teen romance movies inspired you the most?

King: Talking a lot. Bend It Like Beckham, Love & BasketballAny kind of sport romance. I’d like Crush to be someone’s comfort watch, that movie they can rewatch to escape when everything’s going to sh-t. Weaving a story that makes people laugh and cry—it’s hard! And that’s why we went through, like, 70 drafts of this script. Rom-coms deserve more justice in our cultural canon.

Rackham: Our director added Easter eggs to the film, as did our production team. When AJ first bumps into Paige, she’s holding The Taming and the Reaping of the ShrewThe basis for 10 Things That I Hate About Yourself. A lot of signs were placed at the track meeting identifying the directors of Rom-com. That was Sammi’s genius mind.

Are you able to offer any tips for queer filmmakers or screenwriters looking to get started?

Rackham: A queer person was able to direct the film. This gave us the foundation of our vision. And it’s a long process. It is important to choose the right people to take care of you. [the project]Keep it going.

King: Meetings are those where the executive says that there is already one gay member. [film on our slate]. And you’re like, Oh okay, it’s a war film about two men, but sure, I totally see that. Those are the depressing moments. Producers understood our vision and supported it. However, it can be difficult to find reps. It’s also hard to get your script reviewed. The writers in our group have worked together for five years and share their resources. In this industry, there’s a default of safeguarding your resources, but especially as queer people, we need to share, we need to make introductions. This film was made. However, there are still many films that focus on transgender people. We also need films about people of color. There’s still a lot of work to do and nuance to add to queer cinema. It is my goal to one day be able to assist people.

This interview has been edited to be more concise.

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