Into this dismal movie year comes the charming and more-deep-than-it-appears film from first time writer-director John McKay, Crush. It’s the first 2002 release that captivated me from start to finish — the first to achieve the badge of honor for any title in the modern era: the knowledge that I will buy the DVD of Crush the day it hits the stores. Unfortunately, Crush is a film no one seems to much know or care about. There were four (presumably) paying customers at the 9:25 p.m. show on a Friday night. It doesn’t help that the movie’s gotten virtually no publicity. And its title (which doesn’t do the film justice or really describe it) is doing it no favors (its working title was much better, but would never have gotten past the MPAA and I can’t commit it to print here). However, it’s improbable that Crush by any other name is ever going to be a crowd-pleaser. True, it has something of the aura of Four Weddings and a Funeral about it, mixed in with a bit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but the movie’s just too different, too risky for huge popularity. Its biggest risk is the injection of genuine tragedy into its comedic mix (and not the safe tragedy visited upon supporting players a la Four Weddings and a Funeral). McKay’s concept is simple without being simplistic. Kate (Andie MacDowell), Janine (Imelda Staunton, Another Life) and Molly (Anna Chancellor, Heart) are 40-something professionals, successful in their careers, but with personal lives that aren’t much short of disasters. It’s this latter aspect of their lives that three get together and bemoan on a weekly basis, while drinking gin, smoking cigarettes and eating caramels. The trio have perfected the art of one-downsmanship, with each trying to outdo the other at how miserable their lives are. This changes when Kate meets Jed (Kenny Doughty, Titus), the very young relief organist who happens to be playing at a funeral she attends. Though May-December romances are not uncommon in movies, the one between Kate’s 40-plus headmistress at a posh school, and Jed, a 25-year-old former student of hers, falls way off the comfortably predictable scale. That Kate might be attracted to the striking young man is one thing. That she will be very well-acquainted with him behind a convenient tombstone before the last mourner has departed is something else again. When this turns into a genuine relationship, trouble develops — not as one might expect from the more rurally minded residents of the small Cotswolds town in which the film is set, but from Kate’s intimate circle, especially the much-married Molly, who is hell-bent on saving Kate from herself. If all this sounds fairly commonplace, that’s strictly on the surface. The emotions, complications and subtexts that run through the film are far from commonplace. And McKay’s direction — and his knack for using pre-existing music (ranging from a comical burst of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at one point to the development of a moving running theme with Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations) — is so assured, apt and frequently brilliant that it’s hard to believe this is a maiden work. McKay’s directorial style seems to be drawn from the filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, which gives the movie a pleasantly hand-crafted look that is too often absent from modern filmmaking. It helps that he’s given himself such a witty and daring screenplay to work from — and a fine cast of performers. Andie MacDowell isn’t always perfect in the lead. Occasionally, she lapses into an awkward style and tone of voice, but it’s a small price to pay for her performance when it’s dead-on — and it’s dead-on most of the time. As in Harrison’s Flowers, MacDowell not only continues to stretch her range as an actress, but is wonderfully unconcerned about appearing glamorous or younger than her years. Imelda Staunton and, most especially, Anna Chancellor are also very fine, while Kenny Doughty manages to make his character fully believable in a way that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off. It may be a specialized and difficult film, but it’s also a deeply rewarding one on many levels.