American High may as well be known as the patron saint of Gen-Z high school comedies. Creating inclusive, light-hearted coming-of-age stories, the production company is invigorating the streaming generation with movies that were once typically only reserved for straight white dudes.
It’s next release, Crush, hits Hulu on April 29. Starring Disney alum Rowan Blanchard, the teen rom-com sees aspiring artist Paige forced into joining her high school track team, which she uses as an opportunity to get close to her longtime crush, Gabby (Isabella Ferreira). However, she unexpectedly comes to find herself falling for another teammate and learns what love is really all about. With a cast that also includes Auli’i Cravalho, Tyler Alvarez, Teala Dunn, Rico Paris, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Buteau and Megan Mullally, audiences are in for a whole lot of laughs.
Ahead of Crush’s premiere, LA Confidential spoke with screenwriters Casey Rackham and Kirsten King.
How did the Crush screenplay originate?
Casey Rackham: Kirsten and I were in a queer writers group together and were already friends and we were just sitting there and we just were like really in a place where all we could do was thinking talk about romcoms. And we were like, “Oh, we definitely need to write a queer rom-com together." And we really just sat in one night and just went over what our high school experiences were like, and that's how we ended up with track, queer sisters and we just really came up with a story that was full of fun and hijinks and love and crushes and just everything good that’s in a rom-com.
Kirsten King Casey Rackham: Hulu celebrates the premiere of original film Crush.
There aren’t too many high school comedies about queer teen girls. Were you conscious about wanting to incorporate certain teen movie tropes and not others?
Kirsten King: Ultimately, what we set out to do with this was not tell a coming out story because it does feel like with so many queer films and television, the core, driving force of the plot is typically the coming out and that wasn't something we wanted to do. We got that out of the way in the first five minutes of the movie. Paige is gay, she's bi, she's queer—we tried to get all of that out up top so then we could really explore who these characters are including and outside of their queerness. Stacey is super ambitious, Paige is artistic, A.J. likes to skateboard and is a little bit more brooding. We wanted to just dig into the hearty rom-com things we love, like being forced to share a bed like, “Oh, I'm paired with the wrong person,” enemies-to-lovers.
Our big inspirations for this were 10 Things I Hate About You, Love & Basketball, movies like that. And I think as queer people, we've been able to project our own experience onto straight people's stories for so long, so I think we wanted to just make a rom-com that felt universal where straight people can watch it and understand that comforting watch of a rom-com, but also there’s specificity around the queerness of the characters that I think really comes from it being written, directed and starring queer people. That specificity comes from that intentionality in making the film.
Are either of you twins? I imagine it was tricky writing a storyline where Paige is caught between twins Gabby and AJ.
KK: I have a sister and Casey has a sister as well, and her sister is queer. And my best friends in high school on the track team were twins, so that was motivation for Gabby and A.J., which I have to swear up and down, I'm like, “I did not have a crush on you guys.”
CR: I think I think at the end of the day, it was just like how do we create drama that is still emotionally OK? And it's just a team going through emotions, but thankfully being able to communicate and fix things in the end.
KK: They're just teens who are terrible at communication. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is that Gabby and A.J. fight because I have had fights like that was my sister. I have had conflict like that, but at the end of the day you love that person, that is your built-in best friend, but also it can annoy you in a way that it's just so unlike any other relationship in your life. So we really wanted to show that and I think that came from us both being very close with our sisters.
What was it like to collaborate with director Sammi Cohen?
CR: From the beginning, when she pitched to us, they just really were so supportive of us and we're supportive of them. I think because it’s written, starred, directed by queer women, it is a really easy conversation because we all have a baseline understanding of each other. And she just really understood our vision and she just made our movie that much better. And truly, we're just so happy with everything she brought to the film.
KK: Even just watching Sammi onset with the actors and everyone that they speak to, it's just such a calming, but confident person that was at the helm of this movie that it instantly put Casey and I at ease. As Casey said, when she pitched to us, there was a moment where they got emotional and said how much it would mean to them and instantly then, for me, I was like, “They understand what this story means to us. This story is safe with them.” And as writers, handing your script off to a director is the most terrifying thing in the world, but we really felt good about doing that with Sammi and I think it shows.
What makes Rowan Blanchard your ideal Paige Evans?
KK: Having a queer person playing a queer role, it just adds an element of reassurance that this person is going to understand the life experience of the character their portraying. And then seeing Rowan in Snowpiercer particularly, that was something that we watched and she really has a subtlety to that that I really liked. Paige is fumbling and awkward so much, so having this character strike a balance between being super awkward and an artistic loner to being funny and having that humor come out. So I think she did a really great job, and it was just so surreal being on set and watching our words come to life out of her mouth. It was crazy.
And then what about Megan Mullallay— did you have her in mind to play Paige’s mom?
CR: Above and beyond what we could have ever asked for. She definitely saw who Angie was and she took it to the next level. She just said all of our words and more. She made great additions to the character. It's really fun seeing her with the coach, but honestly, her relationship with Paige is truly wonderful. It warms my heart when they're sitting next to each other on the couch eating pie after Paige is going through all of this. It's just like, “Oh, she's a good mother. She's so good.”
KK: Megan Mullally: queer icon.
What do you hope audiences take away from Crush?
KK: I think it being on Hulu is something that is so powerful because we're living in a time where there's a lot of anti-queer legislation happening right now, today, at this moment, as we speak. So the ability for someone in a more conservative area, rather than taking the risk of buying a ticket to a movie theater and seeing this movie, to be able to sit at home and watch it on their iPad or whatever and just feel like there's hope and there’s safety and there's something that they can look forward to. I think that’s so exciting to us to just imagine people getting an hour and a half of joy where you're not being persecuted for being yourself, which is unfortunately happening right now. We were living in this script for four years and reading the words on the page and then going to Twitter, it's jarring. I'm just really excited about people being able to escape into this world that I hope is in our near future.
CR: I hope just people love this movie and they want to rewatch it because it brings them joy and happiness.
KK: We're so excited to share it with the world. We hope it does well because we want even more queer voices in the conversation, more people given opportunities because we do think that we have such a long way to go in terms of nuanced queer representation. So we hope that this helps other people get their stories made and keeps the ball rolling.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Hulu; Rachel Luna for Disney