Cherry was an absolutely fantastic film. I also never want to see it ever again. There are very few films out there that subject you to a story like this. By that I mean that, it’s anxiety inducing, you want the characters to just make the right choice. You want them to get help. At each turn, something could have changed for them, and the wrong choice gets made. A rash decision turns into a tour of duty in the army for our main character who is listed as “Cherry” in the credits played by Tom Holland.
That and commentary on the systems in place in the US in particular that are supposed to help people in need are at the heart of this story. If you’re going into this expecting something similar to Marvel’s stylings, you’d be very disappointed. I say that, because the film reunites Joe and Anthony Russo (of Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame fame) with Holland.
The best way I can describe Cherry to someone is like this.
A Two-Hour And Twenty Minute Third Act Of A Martin Scorsese Film
If that’s a little confusing, imagine Goodfellas. You have the first half of the film that’s wild, fun, and everything is exciting. And then everything goes to shit. The Wolf Of Wall Street? Same thing. You have the fun of the first half and then Jordan Belfort’s life goes to hell. Characters make bad decisions that compound on one another. It all leads to a crescendo that turns the almost supernatural characters into normal people. There’s no supernatural flair, or even a remote inkling of “you want to be these people” in Cherry. But just imagine a whole movie of that Scorsese third act.
That’s the entire film. The only “fun” to be had between Holland and our other lead, Emily (played by Ciara Bravo), is their young romance at the start. That beginning section throws you off the scent of what this film is actually going to be. I did not watch the trailer for this film before watching, I wanted to be completely oblivious to the plot. So the expectation was this:
Oh, it’s going to be a fun bank robbery movie with Tom Holland. Cool.This Writer Before Seeing The Film
It was not a fun bank robbery movie with Tom Holland.
The Downward Spiral
That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great movie however. The narrative structure of the film is split into six parts. No, it’s not trying to be Quentin Tarantino. The film is based on the book Cherry by Nico Walker. Cherry‘s narrative structure follows that of a book. You follow the passage of time, so it’s natural to have these sort of “story breaks”.
Without delving too much into spoilers, the structure goes like this: Emily and Cherry meet and fall in love, they “split” due to Emily wanting to go to school in Montreal, Cherry joins the army, Cherry has major issues in the army as a medic, he comes back home, he gets involved in drugs and addiction. It goes on from there, but you really have to watch the film to get the full power of it.
The only thing I can really complain about in the film is that the script feels a bit bloated while watching it. Most of what is shown on screen is completely necessary and involved in the plot. It just feels like it could have shaved off about 20 minutes from it’s 2 hour and 20 minute runtime. There are enough bank robbery scenes in the film, but those end up being some of the most character developing portions for Cherry.
Afraid To Shoot Strangers
Cherry‘s heart and soul is a cautionary tale of the horrors of life. Not just the horrors of war, the horrors of addiction, or the horrors of crime. He comes back from war and his life seems like it could get normal again. Nope, he has PTSD and no one is really attempting to help with it. He takes pills, the pills stop working. Another doctor prescribes more pills, and they’re the same ones that put Cherry on his ass in the previous scene. Everything coalesces into this soup of pain, torment, and suffering.
When you think that is horrifying enough, you get into hard drug addiction. It’s not just trying to get that next hit, it’s the perils and pitfalls of what goes into getting the drugs. Cherry’s past meets his present when he brings his old friends back into his life. One robbery makes it an easy source of income to grease those wheels of addiction.
All the crises that we face in this country are shown off, full bore, in Cherry. The opioid crisis, PTSD going untreated, drug addiction, poverty, crime, you name it.
Gimme Fuel Gimme Fire
Laced throughout the film is the completely necessary humor. In a story like this, it would risk running into Requiem For A Dream territory without some sort of break for the audience. Even Uncut Gems and it’s frenetic pace and anxiety inducing plot gave the audience some sort of break. Cherry does the same. Throughout there are small moments that are legitimately laugh out loud. Some are in the dark humor category, but some like Michael Gandolfini’s Cousin Joe asking to “punch this guy in the dick” twice, made me legitimately laugh.
The other scenes are when Cherry breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. Like when he’s in Basic Training or one of the many bank robbery scenes. In particular the one with “a lady who looked like Janet Reno” is humorous. Some of the small things like Doctor’s names being “Dr. Whoever” or banks names being “Shitty Banks” or “Bank Fucks America” add to everything. The humor isn’t overused here though. Cherry ends up using just the right amount to keep the audience invested, engaged, and dare I say, to root for our main character.
Part of that is the performance by Holland. He’s vulnerable, he’s likeable, and you want to root for him. It comes back to the choices that his character makes in the film. You just want him to get it right, to turn things around. And it never happens.
Hello From The Gutter
Overall, Cherry is a great film that is barely weighed down by a bit of bloat. That bloat doesn’t destroy the film’s potential and it’s held back up by the performances of it’s two leads in Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo. Surrounding them is a cast of people who are either victims of circumstance or just plain horrible people. The hinges of society that are supposed to help people like Cherry are broken and it all culminates in a logical ending. The ending of the film is poignant. It’s a classic use of the Screenwriting adage to “show, don’t tell”. You get all you need to know with little dialogue from anyone.
It’s a film that walks the fine line of making you think, care, and want change for the systems that we trust in. People like Cherry and Emily should never be corrupted by the use of drugs and substances, but the institutions in place don’t allow everyone to get help. That’s the core tenet of this film and the one that you’ll be left with after watching.
It’s not a film that I’ll want to put on whenever I’m feeling down, but it’s one that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it.
Cherry hits theaters on February 26th and is available to stream on Apple TV+ on March 12th.
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