Film Review: Cherry
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
In Theaters Streaming on Apple TV+ 03.12
Remember the whole “Marvel isn’t cinema” thing? Of course you do. I covered the basics of my two cents of the subject in my review of WandaVision, and it’s an argument I’m kind of done with now. Nevertheless, there’s something more than a little ironic about Cherry, the first post-Avengers movie from directors Anthony and Joe Russo, so clearly and blatantly emulating the style and substance of a Martin Scorsese picture. It’s better and has more of its own identity than Joker, which was a ripoff disguised as a homage, but the heavy influence here is still unmistakable to anyone who has really studied the master at work.
Cherry follows the wild journey of a disenfranchised young man, played by Tom Holland, from Ohio, who is never directly named in the film. He narrates the story, both offscreen and on, occasionally talking directly to the camera. In college, he meets the love of his life, Emily (Ciara Bravo, The Long Dumb Road, A Teacher) only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances. This unhinged character drifts from dropping out of college to serving in Iraq as an Army medic, where after a horrific incident that leaves multiple men in his unit dead, he is simply told, “You lost your cherry today.” When he returns home as a war hero, he battles the demons of undiagnosed PTSD and spirals into drug addiction, surrounding himself with a menagerie of depraved misfits. Draining his finances, he turns to bank robbing to fund his addiction, shattering his relationship with Emily along the way.
In many ways, Cherry plays like Requiem for a Dream if it had been made by Scorsese as a vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie has strong echoes of Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, and there’s more than a bit of an Oliver Stone influence, both the Platoon era and his more psychedelic phase. And if there’s a major failing to the film, it’s that it is trying too hard to be Scorsese or Stone instead of just being Russo. That said, I found a number of the choices to be effective, especially a change in aspect ratio for the bootcamp sequence, and in my opinion, much like Hillbilly Elegy, it’s a better film than its worst detractors are making it out to be.
The screenplay, by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, has some clever dialogue and is well-structured, but it doesn’t do Holland any favors in terms of making his protagonist an interesting character. Holland, however, is an amazing actor who is able to make this bland, unexceptional, even below-average kid compelling simply by being in the moment every step of the way. His portrayal of the tolls of PTSD and addiction are powerful. Bravo makes quite an impression, and the woefully underrated Jack Reynor (Sing Street) is great as their boneheaded drug dealer. But it’s definitely Holland’s film, and he has a couple of hard-hitting sequences that really got to me.
Cherry is a film that almost couldn’t win no matter what it did, and the Russos were under enormous pressure to prove themselves. In doing so, they overthought and tried too hard to be both edgy and stylistically impressive. But there’s a difference between not entirely succeeding and outright failure, and Cherry is far from the latter. The acting, cinematography and musical score are all strong, and as the son of a Vietnam vet who never learned how to deal with his PTSD, the movie connected with me quite strongly on that level. I maintain that’s it really a pretty solid film, but it’s just an odd case of an obsession with trying to be innovative, which accentuates the fact that it’s nothing that hasn’t been done many times before. –Patrick Gibbs