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Cherry is the highly anticipated Apple TV+ movie by Marvel Studios alumni Joe Russo and Anthony Russo and starring Tom Holland. It’s a film with high expectations thanks to the excellent Marvel movies made by the Russo brothers like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame, but somewhat presciently it may be best known from the poster controversy. Out now, it’s in many ways beautiful and compelling, but it’s also an incredibly confused and unfocused film that tragically has nothing to say.
The movie is fascinating in that it holds your attention with its many camera tricks and set pieces but ends up not mattering much at all. One might argue that’s the point since the movie opens with Tom Holland’s Nico Walker saying he’s twenty-three but still doesn’t know why we do anything at all. In a prelude, we see a tired and depressed Walker rob a bank and realize this might be the last moment of his life. Thanks to some clever tricks with lighting, good editing cutting to previous bank robberies, and some meta fourth wall breaking we quickly learn this film is going to use every trick in the book. These tricks end up holding your attention since you’re trying to make sense of why anything matters or how any of this adds up.
Take for instance an early scene where Walker bartends at a restaurant. He is asked by the owner–played by Joe Russo–to make sure a loud mouth goomba type gets home safe. In a clever shot to show the passage of time, this loudmouth makes his way through the restaurant bothering patrons left and right, and while the camera never changes its angle we can see the restaurant is emptying. The next shot shows this goomba still blabbing but the restaurant is empty and Walker is waiting for him to be tired enough to want to leave. Wisdom is not passed down, nothing of real note is said, and then the goomba drives Walker home. In the narration by Holland, we learn Walker never sees the man again.
It’s at this point you might realize these cleverly planned scenes don’t mean anything at all nor do they tell us much about Walker or the world he lives in. This is a frustrating experience and while it’s easy to admire how the film is shot and the work that went into filming every scene it’s clear this film is more like an experimental student film than anything else.
It’s for this reason that many tricks with focus, slow motion, and music–this film is heavily composed to the point where it seems to hold the film together–offer a fascinating conundrum you’ll attempt to solve. Why is this film so overly creative and clever in its choices of shot and scene complexity? Is it making up for a story we’ve seen before to feel different? Were the Russo’s and director of cinematography Newton Thomas Sigel just having the times of their life?
The film is also structured in a way to avoid having the viewer, and really Walker, not face the fact that the story has been done thousand times over. Heavily narrated, the film uses chapter breaks, opens with the ending to set up expectations, and breaks the fourth wall from time to time. This helps cover the fact that it runs through conventional themes like drug use, the hell of being a jarhead, and marrying the first girl you fall in love with. Walker is an average white guy who doesn’t have any dreams and just wants to have a good time and live. He could be any of us, he’s not remarkable in the slightest, and that further adds to the doldrums of the film’s purpose.
The acting is great, however, with Holland playing the bored and lost youth well. Ciara Bravo plays his girlfriend turned wife Emily who looks impossibly young but plays many facets of a woman coming into her own. From naïve youth to a woman in love, a woman dealing with a drug addict, and more she has a great range. Jack Reynor plays a drug dealer who ends up setting these characters on their bank robbery turn who delivers a nuanced portrayal of an immoral bro dude.
It takes an hour and twenty-two minutes to reach part five when the characters are now heroin addicts. The music plays against expectations quite a bit in the film, maybe due to it having two composers with Alex Belcher and Jack Dolman, seemingly getting happier when things are immoral or unhappy. Much like the music, the film is all over the place with its purpose from young college kid in love, to war film, drug film, and bank robbery film.
Based on the book by Nico Walker with a screenplay by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg this film wants to do way too much. It’s quite clear packaged as a film this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be beyond chapters in a man’s life who never really had a purpose. Cherry is a film that’s hard to look away from even though it never really says anything. It’s an art film dressed up in blockbuster style planning, plotting, and filmmaking. You can’t look away from it even though you desperately want to.
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