First You Break My Board, Then You Break My Heart: The Audacious Awkwardness of 'CRSHD'
GARAGE speaks with filmmaker Emily Cohn about her debut film, which is now streaming.
In Emily Cohn’s debut feature film, CRSHD, Izzy is a virginal college freshman in the final days of the spring semester. She has two things on her bucket list: ace her astronomy final and finally lose her virginity. The latter, she decides, can be solved by attending a crush party. For the uninitiated, in order to attend a crush party, someone has to submit your name as someone they have a crush on. Everyone wears pink, red, and white, and there is a lot of making out. Obviously, things end up being far more complicated than that for Izzy, and what unfolds is eighty minutes of figuring it out, fucking up, and of course, some implied fucking (but not in the way you’d expect).
Written and filmed at Oberlin College in Ohio, the movie is just as much campus romance as it is an exploration of those ever-complicated and tender friendship dynamics that happen when you’re a young person. A mix of Booksmart, Funny Ha Ha, and Ghost World, the movie has dialogue that is audaciously awkward and deeply hilarious. It stars Isabelle Barbier as Izzy, Sadie Scott as Fiona, and Deeksha Ketkar as Anuka, all three actresses are extremely funny in their own right. The movie is full of the kind of weird hierarchies and feels of perpetual nervousness that come with attending a small liberal arts college and trying to fit in. All three leads struggle with this in different ways, and you could say the movie is an extremely Gen Z artistic document. We constantly see the three leads sending each other random emojis on iMessage, fucking around and looking for hot people on Tinder, and doing something called “deep liking,” on Facebook. CRSHD premiered last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is now streaming online at movie theaters across the country. I talked to Cohn about coming of age in college and as a filmmaker, and more.
What kind of story were you trying to tell with CRSHD ? Would you consider any of it a memoir?
I think more generally it was just how horribly self-conscious I felt at Oberlin in a lot of ways. Beyond that, I wanted to write characters that were combinations of myself and all the different people that I know and interacted with at a really liberal art school experience. I wrote it before Blockers or Booksmart had come out, and I really wanted to see Superbad with female characters instead. I also wanted to see social media in a way that was more fun than just looking at texting bubbles. I wanted to figure out [how I could tell a millennial or Gen Z story] in a way that feels exciting.
Yeah. How did you arrive at that? That was one of the things I really thought was great about the movie is you just see Izzy fucking around on Tinder. And it felt very real to me.
I had done a short film where I had people pop up to say their text messages and be there in person, the way that we can invite people in to intimate moments, by just interacting with them on our phones. And then also the bigger thing is how we gamify our lives. Like even now, I try to get 10,000 steps a day and I'll look at my phone. One time I showed my mom Tinder at one point and she was like, "This is so fun." It all just becomes this big weird game and we're the main avatar in our own lives. Actually [weaving Tinder in the movie] was fun. Our production manager casted the Tinder people by swiping and matching with people, and then was like “would you want to be an extra on this film?” So we cast the Tinder people on Tinder. I mean, really every turn was just, we knew something needed to get done and we did what we needed to do. And it was just like, "What resources do we have?”
I found the journey that you sent your characters on to be super compelling. What was the lesson you were trying to teach them in this movie?
I think that the main thing is to try to get out of their own heads. I think a lot about being in college, thinking, "Oh, everyone else is having a better time than I am. Everyone else has all these cool friends. Everyone else is thriving from when I see them." I think for each of the characters, I wanted them to understand that everyone is self-conscious about something, and the way that we might idolize someone is a false narrative: they're also going through their own shit. I wanted each of them to have that realization at some point.
Where did you have to go, mentally, to write the dialogue in this movie?
Well, so there are two scenes that are direct pulls from things in my life, interactions at Oberlin. There is a scene where Izzy asks the DJ of the party where he got his T-shirt, and that is something that happened to me. I was trying to flirt with someone, and complimenting his T-shirt. He was like, "Thanks, I got it at a thrift store." And it was really loud and I couldn't hear. As for the rest of it, we had a really young cast and crew, and a lot of the people were Oberlin students who were improvising based on their characters too. So that I think also made it more authentic where all of us were either still in college or just graduated. I would say it was 80% of it was sticking to the script and then the rest was people doing their own thing.
Walk me through what it was like actually shooting this film. You filmed it shortly after you graduated in Ohio in August.
It's funny because everyone from the cast and crew since are like, "That was the best summer of our lives,” but I was pretty consistently stressed out. The film was super, super low budget. I feel like the best way to describe this is to talk about this scene where Izzy has a breakdown and cries to this Safety and Security Officer. While she’s acting, I'm driving the car and reciting the lines to her while the sound person is in the trunk trying to get her audio. I memorized Izzy’s speech for her and was reciting the lines for her to go off of. But I was so distracted. So I just was totally butchering it, she ended up doing a great job. While we were all in the car, something had died in it, so I've never smelled something so foul in my life.
This movie premiered last year at Tribeca, What was that like?
That was definitely the peak. I feel like it's really exciting to have it be out in a bigger way now, but we had, because our cast and crew, the DP is from India, she's my close friend from film school, and the AD is from the Netherlands and everyone else is from Cleveland and New York. It was this big, fun reunion. And just, especially when we made it, no one really had any expectations for what would happen. So it was just nice, and to see how a lot of people have just grown so much and continued to do really cool things.
You’ve been working on this movie for a few years, and it's obviously personal, what's it like having it out in the world? Where do you want to go from here?
I feel I'm ready to have it out in the world, and it feels nice. I think there's also a funny thing where we did a screening, I do a lot of feedback screenings. So I got really used to getting feedback, and I like getting constructive criticism, I had one screening with a lot of my mom's friends. A lot of them loved it, and then there's the more conservative side of that group. I was at a screening with them, and when you see it through their eyes, it's the most vulgar thing you've ever seen. And then when I'm screening with anyone younger, like college students, it is so tame. It is such a tame movie. It's not graphic in any way. But yeah. It's just interesting to have those different experiences through other people's eyes. [In terms of what’s next], I pitched the TV show version of CRSHD, which hopefully is still something that might exist in the future. It’s not exactly CRSHD. It takes a different approach. But it's in that same world.