Cherry is a lightweight Requiem for a Dream with Avengers’ production values
Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Say you direct the biggest movie in the world, a commercial success that manages to tie up over a dozen storylines in an emotionally satisfactory way. What do you do next?
For Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, the answer is a “gritty” tale of addiction told David Copperfield-style.
Cherry is the most bizarre film to open this year. While it hits all the traditional addiction movie beats, the Russos’ foray into drama takes the wrong turn at every intersection. Without anybody to keep them in check, the Marvel Cinematic Universe architects indulge their worst instincts.
Clocking over 140 minutes, Cherry goes for larger-than-life even though the story doesn’t support such ambition. The film unfolds in chapters because the Russos really think of themselves as modern-day Charles Dickens(es). Even for a movie based on a book — by Nico Walker, loosely based on his own experiences — Cherry is excessively structured.
The blatantly miscast Tom Holland is the titular Cherry, an average kid who feels things too deeply, to put it charitably. When his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) announces she’s skipping town to study abroad (Montreal, of all places), Cherry joins the army out of spite. Emily changes her mind, but there’s no backsies with Uncle Sam.
Cherry is soon deployed to Afghanistan, far from Emily, whom he marries before deploying. In a normal movie, there would be a shot-on-the-cheap event whose sole existence is to trigger the main character’s PTSD. Here is a full-blown, harrowing action sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marvel-verse (if it were R-rated).
Unable to shake the war-is-hell trope, Cherry starts self-medicating with opioids and heroin. Unforgivably, he drags Emily into the throes of addiction. In order to pay for drugs, the vet starts robbing banks, although in that gentlemanly way movies depict when they don’t want you to turn on their hero.
The movie stops short of becoming misery porn, but only because the Russos know there are things nobody wants to see Tom Holland do.
Holland does his darndest to sell the role (when properly cast he has real screen presence), but the character doesn’t have much depth beyond low self-esteem. All of Cherry’s traits seem skin deep, unforgivable when you have almost two and a half hours to give your character substance.
Having the money to hire any below-the-line talent in existence means the movie looks like a new penny (cinematography by Newton Thomas Siegel) and sounds like an epic (score by Henry Jackman). This unfortunately means an outcome too polished to pass for a stark portrayal of suburbia’s ugly underbelly.
The best I can say about Cherry is that it’s critical of the military. In these days when the armed forces are treated with over-the-top reverence, even in Canada, this movie dares to suggest people unworthy of wielding power can often be found in positions of authority.
Whenever it’s not taking itself too seriously Cherry has some dark chuckles (when Midsommar’s Jack Reynor shows up midway through, it’s like a shot in the arm, pardon the pun). But overall? The effort seems pointless beyond honing the Russos’ directing skills.