With Cherry, directing team Anthony and Joe Russo have shed their Marvel skin for the first time in 15 years for a gritty, grounded movie set in the very real world of an American Nightmare. Based on the book by Nico Walker, the film tells the story of a young man caught in the meat grinder that was 2000s America, a frying-pan-to-fire transition of ever-escalating right hooks to the jaw that seldom relents and has little to say. The Russos bring along their Marvel lucky charm Tom Holland in the title role and all three are trying to bring gravitas and depth to their careers, which, up until this point, have primarily (but not exclusively) been highlighted by somewhat shallow CG models and worlds. To that end, it's frankly a good move by all to have done a project like this, even if the final result misses more than hits.
Divided into six sections, Cherry takes on different styles and motifs in the different eras of its main character’s life that it’s focusing on at any given time. While it sounds like a fair idea on paper, the exercise of making these varied tones and concepts doesn’t always work, even within each of the sections. Young love gives way to time at war which brings the throes of addiction and finally a life of crime. It's a lot to take in and as an entire piece feels quite overindulgent at times. As an experiment, it's fascinating to watch unfold and the Russos have done a remarkable job of making sure the visual aesthetics of this movie are being told strictly from the point of view of their lead as Holland commands the screen throughout each vignette.
Though his ambition is present in every instance, there are times where Holland can't make the gravity of some moments really land. Both he and co-star Ciara Bravo have sequences that play like a punch to the stomach, showing off their chops and making you really feel for these characters. This movie is about a descent and how, with near butterfly-effect-like waves, personal decisions can lead to eventual condemnations. The Russos clearly define that, for some, there is no bottom and because of the deep end they were thrown into, it's an unending cycle of falling.
That's where the story is revealed as a trick, as there's no profound insight about these circumstances nor any deep mining of the larger forces to blame for the real-life problems being depicted. The section about Cherry's time in basic training and in the Iraq War almost cross a threshold into a condemnation of the toxicity of American militarism, but always stop short. Cherry's addiction to OxyContin clearly draws lines to the abusive degrees that the substance was pushed onto a populace, but does nothing as far as grappling with a world that would allow this to happen. There may not be a shallow CG background this time, but there's a shallow narrative.
Perhaps the sign of a script that is bloated and thick, there are also times Cherry feels like parody. Oftentimes I was reminded of 1986's direct-to-video experiment Hawk Jones, a police drama where every role is played by a child, but written in such a way that adults could have been seen on-screen. Sometimes Cherry felt like an extension of that bizarre attempt, as some heavy sequences come off as unintentionally silly. Perhaps it could be argued that the varied tones of the movie's motifs make this intentional at times, but the fact that multiple serious sequences can happen in a row and only a few work is a sign that something isn't clicking somewhere.
The most surprising thing about Cherry, and its primary saving grace, is the humor that bleeds throughout it. Bits of Cherry's POV seep into our perception of this world, but to hilarious effect. A visit to a doctor reveals the physician's name plate as "Dr. Whomever," various banks that are robbed feature official logos emblazoned on the walls and their front doors reading "Sh-ty Bank" or "Bank F-ks America." The movie doesn't call attention to these moments, but that they exist and can draw a bigger laugh than some of the actually funny parts speaks to a weird sense of humor that guides the entire piece.
Cherry is the kind of bizarre, post-film-school experiment that could only get made with the clout of filmmakers that had just delivered the highest-grossing movie of all time. It's fascinating and maddening, somethings exciting to watch and othertimes a bore. Though overstuffed at times, the Russo brothers made at least one good decision and that was Tom Holland as the lead, whose performance never wavers, even when the material gets shaky.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Cherry hits theaters on February 26th and will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on March 12th.