Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Written by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg
The Russo Brothers have an interesting and fascinating past. They got their start in comedy, specifically television where they were a pair of the main directors of the sit-com Arrested Development. But then they got an even bigger break by landing the gig to curate the Captain America franchise for Marvel. They were so good at it, making the Cap movies among the best in the franchise, that Kevin Feige and Marvel tagged them to direct the major cornerstone Avengers film to round out the Infinity Saga part of the property. However, since their involvement with Marvel, the brothers Russo have not made a feature film. Cherry is their first such venture outside of Marvel, which makes it an extremely important film for them and their voice. Now, I give them all the credit in the world when it comes to the success of their Marvel films, but everyone also knows the machine that is Marvel, and how it is such a collaboration that I really don’t know what to expect from them out on their own. At least here with this film, they get to pair again with a Marvel star in Tom Holland. Hopefully that makes the transition a little easier for them.
Cherry (Tom Holland) has his entire life in front of him when he falls for Emily (Ciara Bravo) in college. After Emily makes the decision to move to Montreal, Cherry decides to enlist in the Army as a medic. After a change of heart, the two wed prior to his deployment. But after the horrors of war, Cherry does not come back the same man he was before war. Suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder, Cherry quickly becomes hooked on pain killers, dragging Emily down the rabbit hole with them. As they descend further into drug addition, Cherry turns to Pills & Coke (Jack Reynor) for his daily fix. Soon the pair are in such debt that Cherry is forced to start robbing banks to get the money to get them out of debt and feed their debilitating addiction.
This is an ambitious project to say the least for the Russo Brothers’ “solo” foray into making films. Based on a novel, the film packs a punch and covers a lot of very hefty subjects, but at the same time that seems to be the largest negative on the film, it just has too many ideas that don’t end up fully fleshed out. Throwing the kitchen sink at us, the film covers young love, the horrors of war and its aftermath, and a descent into drug addiction and the spiral that all of these things on their own can cause, let alone combined together. It’s a little too much darkness all in one place for my tastes, and I don’t think the Russo brothers deliver them and their themes with enough deft touch to pull it off. I’m not sure there are many who could other than say a Fincher or Aronofsky. But the result is just a sad, heavy, and dark movie that is not fun to watch, not enriching to watch, not entertaining in anyway. As is, I’m not sure what the point is.
As for the filmmaking itself, there are some bright spots. The cinematography and action choreography are quite good, which is not surprising as those were strengths of the Russo’s in their Marvel efforts. I think overall the performances are fine too. Tom Holland is really challenging himself with such a layers and complex role, and for the most part he pulls it off. I think he’s a fine young actor who needs to find the right projects to challenge himself while playing to his strengths. As with any such young star, he needs to find a way to separate his persona from the role he will be most known for and most famous for likely for the rest of his life: Spider-Man. It’s not an easy feat, but early in his career, I think he has the chops to transcend such a role given the right directions. Take The Devil All the Time from last year for instance. In many ways, these two films show a strong sense of his abilities, even if the darkness of The Devil All the Time is handled better by the filmmaker than it is here in Cherry. Regardless, these two roles are a great start to showing what he can do outside of Spider-Man.
Ultimately, Cherry is just too much. It takes these ideas and seems to want to combine them all together for the strongest effect, but it ends up just feeling like a piling on, which ironically makes them all the less effective. Certainly such a scenario is emblematic of how such piling on, spiraling out of control can happen in the real world, but packaged in a film which is trying to be both languid and lyrical in its delivery, it becomes an overwrought, overlong production that can’t make up its mind which movie it wants to be. If the film had been able to focus a little more on any one or two of its major touchpoints, I think it would have benefitted from the focus. But as it stands, the film depends more on the circumstance being a character than the characters being truly sympathetic figures. There is also a certain style which is implemented throughout to make it a slick, clever film, which doesn’t seem to fit the narrative of the darkness being communicated. All in all, Cherry is a major miss from the brothers Russo, but given their previous success, I’ll still be lined up for their next film.