Movie Review: “Cherry” (2021)

The new film from directors Anthony and Joe Russo, begins with the title character, Cherry, relating his story to someone. This is done via voiceover and we don’t see where Cherry is or to whom he’s speaking. Although other movies have started in similar fashion, it is still an intriguing opening – it prompts us to ask a whole lot of questions and gets us instantly involved. The movie remains intriguing as we soon see Cherry (Tom Holland) address the camera directly as he prepares to rob a bank. Quickly enough all of that vanishes.

“Cherry” may employ clever techniques throughout and may have a good performance from Holland, but it is constantly shifting from one story to the next. Yes, the tales may all feature Cherry, but rather than creating something that is expansive in scope or a cohesive whole tale of one person’s life, it winds up feeling like little bits and pieces of different stories—different movies—have been lined up together and forced to be one.

Although we can make some guesses, it is never quite clear to whom Cherry is speaking at the beginning of the movie. At some point (relatively early on), he stops addressing the camera directly. Much of the movie actually occurs before the bank robbery we see at the start and, when we do return to it, the Cherry we get at that moment is completely different. At the film’s outset, he is relatively calm and collected; in the bank later on, he’s a junkie doing all he can to keep it together.

There are, undoubtedly, ways for us to understand all the changes, but after more than two hours of film and watching Cherry go from being an undergrad trying to get a girl to a dropout to an army enlistee to an army medic to a sufferer of PTSD to a junkie to a bank robber/junkie, attempting to work out how the beginning might fit back into the end seems like a fool’s errand. For the most part, these various segments of the film (and it is divided into sections) are interesting in and of themselves, but there’s a whiplash that results from them being attached to one another.

The army story, in particular, is beautifully told and truly painful to watch. Cherry lives through some hellish moments both in basic training and during his deployment. The Russos offer this all up with some scant moments of humor and more than a little blood and guts. It is largely dark and depressing and terribly human.

A lot of those adjectives could again be used for the post-Army portions of the movie. Crucially, “Cherry” doesn’t lack depth of emotion in any individual aspect of the story being told, but in telling them all, it never fully explores any one. Just when we feel as though we’re going to get there, we move to the next thing and have to start building our understanding again.

Holland’s Cherry is always at the center of things, going from one problem to another; always making his life worse as he tries to make it better. With him for the majority of the movie is the girl from his undergrad days, Emily (Ciara Bravo). Bravo is as good as Holland here and even gets to play a relatively consistent character, one whose ideas change as she ages, to be sure, but that’s a function of her entering adulthood. Cherry doesn’t really seem to get to adulthood until the end of the movie, just before the credits roll. Perhaps that explains his actions throughout—the follies of youth—but that’s something of a weak excuse.

One cannot argue as much for the aforementioned diverse styles thrown into the filmmaking. There is the addressing the camera in the first person which only happens briefly; during one moment the Russos will play with color, making most of a shot black and white; later in the movie, they change the aspect ratio and the size of the image we’re seeing. The sense offered is that they are showing what they can do to make a film intriguing rather than working on how to best tell their tale. There may be a way to understand these shifting looks as they are given, but they detract from the cohesiveness of the story/ies being told.

Stripped to its core, “Cherry” is probably best understood as a love story between Chery and Emily. These are the two characters who exist in the majority of the movie, and Cherry is constantly doing things in reaction to his feelings for her. Although this view does help hang things together, it does not prevent the film from feeling overlong, overcomplicated, and a little silly in its shifts.

Perhaps the novel by Nico Walker upon which the screenplay from Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg is based is more cohesive. Certainly the movie is intriguing enough to make one consider picking up the book. “Cherry” will also help convince those who haven’t seen Holland on screen as anyone but Peter Parker that he can do so much more than wall crawl.

If only he had been tasked with doing slightly less here.

photo credit: AppleTV+

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