“Sometimes I feel like I’ve already seen everything that’s gonna happen.”
I really don’t like comparing movies with other movies and usually try to avoid it whenever possible. However, I have to say that watching the trailer for Cherry, and eventually the rest of the film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of 2015’s Joy. Much like that film, Cherry employs plenty of unique visual touches as it attempts to chronicle the complicated life of its main character, going to great lengths (including a sprawling runtime) in order to do so. Both films feature popular stars who take on the daunting acting challenge of having to venture decades with their characters over the course of their films, charting their mental and emotional journeys along the way. Joy did all this; and did it well. Cherry, sadly, does not.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Tom Holland plays the titular character (I literally just discovered Cherry was his actual name when consulting IMDb before starting this paragraph), a young man trying to find his way in college when he meets and falls in love with Emily (Ciara Bravo), a beautiful coed. After Emily steals his heart and later breaks it before deciding she loves him again, Cherry enlists in the Army and is sent to fight in the Iraq war. The experience leaves him with severe PTSD and leads to both a heroin habit and a penchant for robbing banks.
My comment of Cherry reminding me of Joy was more compliment for the former rather than insult to the latter. Five years later, all of David O. Russell’s visual choices for that film still linger as does the way they brilliantly helped to tell the character’s story without taking over completely. Cherry likewise has its own signature style. Unfortunately the directors prefer this style over substance…as well as story. There’s no shortage of visual flair and playful methods to be found here. The main character pauses on numerous occasions to break the fourth wall, screams are illustrated on the screen in big red type and every third shot is done in slow-mo. Meanwhile, characters end up looking/posing directly to camera as they’re being introduced through a Cherry voiceover and many frames show everything in the shot to be blurry and distorted with the exception of the person in the center. The Russo’s have guaranteed that Cherry contains stylistic flourishes galore, ensuring that their movie is never boring to look at. Unfortunately, these touches also highlight how inconsequential it really is.
The thing I hate more than comparing films to one another is asking what the point of any one movie is. It’s almost blasphemous, I feel, to question why a movie should exist. And yet, all throughout the nearly two and a half hours of Cherry, I found myself continuously wondering: What is the point of this? Even a whole day later, I still can’t figure out what I was meant to get from this experience. Sure, the film highlights the ongoing plight of returning soldiers who continue to battle PTSD and the far-reaching effects that can result from them, but I suspect that Cherry wasn’t really made for this purpose. There’s no real ideological full circle here and too many scenes seem to exist more for effect than to move the story along. When an angry Emily is sitting by a small table with a bunch of nail polish bottles on it, we notice that she’s not doing her nails. As soon as we notice this, she knocks them off, screams, gets up and storms over to Cherry who laying in an empty bathtub with oxycontin scattered on his chest. The movie is littered with scenes such as these which function as near parodies of actual hard-hitting dramas and little else. The movie is split up into chapters and includes both a prologue and epilogue, which means plenty of territory is covered. Yet it still feels as if nothing worthwhile, life-affirming or even genuine made the final cut.
I recall reading a review about the 1999 Rob Reiner-directed comedy The Story of Us starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer in which the critic analyzing the movie said that the actors let their hairstyles do their acting for them, referring to the many times the two stars changed their appearance to signify the passage of time. While that criticism was unfair in that instance (Willis and Pfeiffer are quite good in that film), it more than fitting with Cherry. Holland isn’t out of his depth here per say, but he’s definitely relying on his character’s physical features (including and especially his hairstyles) to carry him through scenes the young actor seems a bit too apprehensive to tackle without their help. Bravo, Jack Reynor as a Ambercrombie-clad drug dealer and James Lightfoot as Cherry’s best friend all come off better, though not enough to disguise the fact that there aren’t any real characters in Cherry; only constructs.
Any chance I see to quote The Golden Girls, I leap at. At some point during Cherry, when I was seeing how strung out Cherry and Emily had become, I thought back to an episode when Sophia and Blanche had just returned from the movies. “We saw Dying Young,” Sophia announced. “ I laughed til I peed; and then I laughed at that,” she added. It’s kind of hard not to echo Sophia’s sentiments watching Cherry since every potential emotional beat was preceded by an idiotic choice made by the main character, rendering too many scenes hollow and un-engaging. It’s sad when you do consider what does work about the movie. The cinematography is legitimately stunning and the combat scenes do have enough spark and credibility to make them watchable. There is enough heart and intention throughout the whole of the film that made me want to root for it to succeed. Maybe at a shorter run time, Cherry might have had a shot at being solidly good. But there’s simply no reason for a film this pointless to exist.