Originally published on Elements of Madness
From Rebel Without a Cause (1955) to The Breakfast Club (1985) to Lady Bird (2017), each generation has its special coming-of-age films that it can claim as its own. These are the movies grounded in a cultural milieu that take us back to a certain time and place with a nostalgic soundtrack, dated fashion trends, and short-lived catchphrases. As new generations emerge with their own lingo, music, technology, and psychological baggage, filmmakers always seem to find fresh new soil for exploring timeless themes about growing up. Writer and director Emily Cohn has certainly created an exciting new take on those themes with her feature debut, CRSHD, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. In CRSHD, Cohn dives headfirst into the world of social media to reexamine the troubles and triumphs of the young adult years.
Izzy (Isabelle Barbier) has almost survived her freshman year of college, but there’s just one thing she still needs to check off her freshman bucket-list: sex. While she’s still got one final exam left, all Izzy can think about is the pact she made with her friend Fiona (Sadie Scott) to lose her virginity before the end of freshman year. When she finds out about an invite-only “Crush Party” on campus, she knows it’s her best chance to find a last-minute hookup. In order to secure an invitation, however, Izzy has to get “crushed,” meaning that if someone has a crush on her, they can submit her name to the party host. Izzy spends the day obsessing about how to get in, what to wear, how to secure alcohol to get buzzed beforehand, and whether or not she should just forget the whole thing and study. Her friends Fiona and Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar) are there to help, but they are dealing with romantic entanglements of their own.
All three main characters are refreshing and enjoyable to watch. As the quirky, misunderstood protagonist, Barbier brings a lovable charm to Izzy that makes us root for her through all her stumbles. Although Izzy still has some maturing to do, Barbier clearly takes the character very seriously, bringing both the uncertainty and the confidence of a college freshman to life. Similarly, Scott and Ketkar embrace their roles as the heroine’s best friends with an innocent confidence that makes them realistic and memorable. While some of the lines and situations may be corny, the three actresses seem totally comfortable in the world of a teen movie.
While the outcast protagonists of each new coming-of-age film may face the same set of problems over and over again, these films still work because they situate classic young adult problems in a specific context. CRSHD represents what life is like for the current generation of college students, specifically those who live on campus at a liberal arts school. The film explores how the weird rules of campus life shape the way that students see and experience the world. There’s a laundry list of quirks to living on campus that often don’t reflect what life is really like in the adult world: meal plans, room inspections, swiping your ID to get into your dorm, and dodging campus security officers. As CRSHD effectively reveals, these aren’t just things that Izzy and her friends do, but things that define how they live their lives and work through conflicts. CRSHD incorporates the quirks, frustrations, and inconveniences of college life into the larger conflicts of the film, like when Anuka tries to storm back inside after a fight with Izzy but finds herself locked out of the dorm.
Whether they go to college or not, the latest group of young adults also has a unique experience in that technology has completely changed the way that they take in information, complete everyday tasks, and make social connections. Social media, specifically, has created a whole new process for making friends, essentially redefining what it means to get to know new people. CRSHD is a film that is completely about, immersed in, and told through technology, allowing it to effectively represent a new kind of social interaction. CRSHD not only displays its characters’ text messages on screen, but shows the characters reading their messages and profile descriptions out loud, allowing the characters to establish a physical presence in the cyber-world. When Izzy sees a new person in the dining hall and immediately tries to find him on Facebook, we get to see this new character introduce himself with a monologue based on his social media presence. During these online exchanges, the characters are shown in a bright, monochromatic set that comes to represent the strange online space where people connect. CRSHD is by no means nuanced in its representation of social media, but its loud and bold design proves effective as a fun, colorful, and campy experiment in how to represent new methods of social connectivity.
CRSHD isn’t just about the new technology. The film actually opens with a vintage, pixelated video-game sequence that introduces the setting and characters over a map of the campus, which returns several times throughout the film whenever the characters move to a different location. Even when the characters’ texts appear on screen, the graphics look like those of an old flip phone rather than the shiny, sleek graphics of today’s devices. While CRSHD is a unique experiment with format, the film also recognizes that its design, plot, characters, and conflicts borrow heavily from previous films. Every aspect of CRSHD, from its visual design to its age-old virginity-pact plot, pays homage to previous coming-of-age films without simply copying them. The film seems to recognize that just like recycled and revamped fashion trends, there’s no way it can be completely new, but it celebrates this, reminding us that each generation does have something unique to offer even as they build upon old creative work.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."