Whilst logging into Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch original content is almost second nature to me now at this point, something I had never done until this week was watching any kind of original film programming on Apple TV+. What better to pop my platform cherry with, then, than a film actually called Cherry?
Directed by the Russo brothers and starring fellow Marvel universe alum Tom Holland, Cherry tells the story of an unnamed young American man (played by Holland), documenting his life from aspiring college student to deployed soldier in Iraq to opioid addicted veteran forced into a life of crime to feed his habit back home. It’s a bold story that tries to address a lot of issues and themes within American society, but wow, this whole movie is pretty much a swing and miss in my opinion.
From soldiers with PTSD to heroin addiction to relatively likeable characters being forced into criminal situations, everything that is covered in Cherry is something that you will have seen in film before, and crucially, you will have seen it done much, much better. Cherry isn’t necessarily over the top in its depictions of the core elements like war trauma and drug addiction, but it isn’t particularly nuanced either. Rather than bringing something authentic feeling to the big screen, what the Russo brothers seem to be more concerned with is injecting their own cinematic style into every possible frame. This is totally fine when the style is something worth celebrating, but Cherry actually feels like a low quality homage to a bunch of more established styles ranging from Scorsese to Tarantino. From a Goodfellas-esque voiceover that doesn’t feel appropriate to the narrative to a crazy POV shot that literally comes out of Tom Holland’s colon, the film never really feels like its own thing.
The strongest portion of the story, for me, is the time we spend with ‘Cherry’ in Iraq, and that is solely because it feels like the only segment of the narrative that develops his character. His decision to join the military is a split second plot point, and his descent into drug addiction is equally as ‘hand wavy’, but during his years of service the audience actually get to see the life experience that contributes to the PTSD that influences the rest of the film from that point.
At almost two and a half hours in length, the film doesn’t actually feel insufferably long, but there is a distinct, quite stilted divide in the three main parts that I’ve highlighted, pre war, war, and post war. Visible Tarantino-esque chapter titles are thrown up to dictate a shift in the story, but again it just feels like a style choice made for no valid reason. There are individual impressive moments dotted across the narrative, but not nearly enough to make this movie truly any good.
It’s not Tom Holland’s fault, but he just doesn’t feel like the right casting for this role. The man is going to be baby faced into his 50s, and that’s fine, but his perpetual teen aesthetic simply doesn’t work for a character that goes through so much over so many years in this story. I really liked Holland in Netflix’s recent The Devil All The Time, so it’s not the shift from superhero to gritty drama that is the problem here. To his credit, the actor does everything he can to elevate the role, and he’s certainly the best thing about the movie as a whole, but there are times when it feels almost like a student production playing ‘pretend’.
Ciara Bravo as Cherry’s girlfriend Emily suffers a similar problem, with her performance being most effective in the early college years and then declining as she is tasked with playing a more mature adult with a debilitating heroin problem. Perhaps I was just put in a bad mood from my overall dissatisfaction with the film, but I didn’t pick up on much appealing chemistry between the pair, even in their fresh faced student days before the shit really hits the fan.
Overall, you don’t need to be a genius to see that I did not like Cherry. An odd mixture of the overly stylistic and over melodramatic in different parts, the film never looks or feels like it is comfortable in its directorial skin. The Russo brothers have managed to create something that simultaneously feels too light yet takes itself too seriously, and not in an interesting complimentary way. I’ve seen enough of Tom Holland outside of his spider suit to know that he’s not a one trick pony, it’s just a case of this particular role and film not working for him. As for the directorial siblings, I feel myself being far less forgiving!