North Texas Daily

‘Cherry’ chokes on its own ambitions

‘Cherry’ chokes on its own ambitions

‘Cherry’ chokes on its own ambitions
April 08
13:00 2021

“As I stood there holding a gun, taking her in, something overtook me. Like a kind of sadness. It’s as if I’d always known that this was how things were supposed to end. But I wasn’t made to realize it until that exact moment.”

As he holds up a bank, opioid-addict Cherry (Tom Holland) reflects on what led to his desperation, including the day he met Emily (Ciara Bravo), his traumatizing time as a medic in Iraq and his descent into self-destruction and crime.

Here’s a question: how do you follow up an achievement like the last two “Avengers” films? The answer Joe and Anthony Russo give is “Cherry,” adapted from Nico Walker’s autobiographical novel. They got a lot on their plate here: a decade-spanning story covering the loss of innocence, true love, the early opioid crisis, desperation, etc. This certainly isn’t a movie lacking in potential depth here.

So, why does it?

Two things end up sinking “Cherry”: how the Russos handle the protagonist and the way their style intrudes on the story.

Tom Holland, the current Spider-Man, has been pretty solid in past projects like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the recent “The Devil All The Time.” Here, I think he is still pretty good, but there’s not enough character to work with. He handles the transition from aimless college student to traumatized veteran to reckless addict well, but there’s not enough meat for him to chew on. I should note Cherry is not actually addressed by name in the movie, which is part of a larger problem.  Cherry isn’t much of a character — there’s not much to him behind his service in the military, largely unexamined friendships and his romance with Emily, which is paint-by-numbers.

The other big problem is in how the Russos decide to spice up the story with an emphasis on overproducing the visuals and style. While they showed themselves to be technically pretty competent with “Avengers” and their two “Captain America” outings, they really overuse their bag of magic tricks here. There are quick cutaways for some jokes, overuse of slow-mo during emotional scenes, blaring title cards to emphasize declarations and chapter titles to name a few instances. Holland narrates as Cherry, breaking the wall in the middle of a few scenes.

Sometimes voice-over narration can get flak because of too much emphasis on “show-don’t-tell,” but it feels like the creators are trying to cover for the lack of sufficient substance here.

It feels like they watched “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Pain & Gain” and took away the wrong lessons. “Wolf” had this slickly-told story about an equally swift, but scummy tycoon and “Pain” was a glorious display of human stupidity. I think the Russos could have refined their approach with something rougher and less refined, maybe instead of indulging in quick cut-aways and some crass site gags. For example, some characters have name plaques reading, “Dr. Whomever” or a building has the name “S—ty Bank.” Admittedly, those are fun details and hint at the care put into the movie, but then there’s the third and final problem this contributes to.

The story is cliche as hell. Now, cliches are cliches for a reason — they’re time-tested, familiar yet still work. However, the lack of any real surprises here combines with the especially heavy FX indulgence to slather an ugly coat of artifice on the whole production. While the last movies I mentioned at least fully dived into selling how nihilistic their stories were, there’s enough attempt at sentimentality that clashes with the rest of the movie. Instead of being outright cynical, “Cherry” is left in an uncomfortable middle ground — it’s too smooth and polished to pass for something more grounded while also having a little too much of a nasty streak to be profound.

However, there are strengths when factoring in the people working on this.

One of the Russos’ biggest strengths is action, which they’ve definitely carried over from their time at Marvel. While “Cherry” is comparatively more grounded than MCU contributions, they do show a good command of how to stage chaotic warzones and more intense sequences. They know how to do spectacle and the editing is pretty competent, if overbearing as mentioned above.

The cast around Holland is also excellent. Ciara Bravo, who I’ve never heard of before, really shines as a blithe spirit who gets dragged down by Cherry and becomes something much darker. Forrest Goodluck and Michael Ganfolfini also shine in the time they’re given. Again, the cast is solid.

Sonically, Henry Jackman’s score is fine and actually fits into each chapter pretty well. The film can also be pretty to look at and some of the effects are pleasing to the eye. There’s a good movie in here somewhere.

“Cherry” doesn’t pop so much as lazily deflate. The Russos will be working with Chris Evans for the thriller “The Gray Man,” so they’ll be on more familiar ground. That being said, I think they’ll still struggle to find their footing for a bit. For more serious Holland, there’s “The Impossible” and “The Devil All The Time,” plus more Spidey.

Will’s rating: 2/5

Courtesy Apple TV+

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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