When I first saw the early reviews for Cherry start to roll in, I didn’t think there was any way it could be as bad as it was made out to be. It stars Tom Holland and is directed by Marvel alumni Joe and Anthony Russo and has a really good trailer, so I thought the negativity had to be hyperbole.
To my dismay, the movie was just as bad, maybe even worse, than I expected. There’s a shot in this movie that is literally supposed to be from inside Tom Holland’s rectum during a rectal exam and I think that’s the perfect metaphor for the movie as a whole. I felt like I was watching it through the filter of over-stylized crap — it was that bad.
This is the first movie that the Russo brothers have directed since Avengers: Endgame and it really feels like Cherry is their way of yelling to the world that they’ve finally broken free from the MCU chains. Their previous four movies in the last seven years have been two Captain America films and two Avengers films. I think three out of those four movies are good to great — they’re the perfect place for the Russos to flash their real talent. They’re great at making mainstream blockbusters and wholly unique episodes of sitcoms, but at this point, it doesn’t seem like prestige dramas are really their thing.
Because Cherry has all the style. It uses slow motion (so much slow motion), fourth wall breaks, aspect ratio changes, off-kilter camera angles, long takes, artsy lighting, dolly zooms, and so much more. But almost none of this seems like it has a real purpose. It really just feels like these directors knew they weren’t able to do anything too out of the box with their Marvel movies because those films have to maintain some kind of visual standard. So they opened up their bag of tricks for Cherry without thinking about what the final product might look like.
The film follows Holland’s main character (credited as “Cherry,” though I’m not sure he’s ever explicitly referred to as that throughout the film), who drops out of college to enlist in the military. During his time as a combat medic, he goes through lots of traumatic experiences and returns home with undiagnosed PTSD, which leads him and his wife to start abusing drugs and later robbing banks to pay for the drugs.
This movie’s premise to me is just another hint that the Russos are earnestly trying to shake off their Marvel reputation. There is constant strong language (to which Captain America would object), sexual content, graphic war imagery, and of course distressing and disturbing depictions of drug use. Normally, you’d get a movie either about war or about drug use, but this movie decides it wants to go for both.
I said earlier that this movie’s style doesn’t really have a purpose and that isn’t completely true. It has an obvious purpose. Each shot and every visual flair just screams at you what it’s trying to do. Nothing is subtle. It’s like the Russos want to make a prestige drama, but don’t trust their audience enough to understand basic filmmaking techniques.
Once Cherry joins the army, the aspect ratio shrinks and there are a lot of closeups. Hm. I wonder what that means.
The name on Cherry’s army uniform just says, “soldier.” I wonder why that is.
Cherry goes to see a doctor whose nameplate says “Dr. Whomever.” What could they be saying here?
Cherry walks into a bank to rob and the name of the bank is, “Bank F*cks America.” Oh, wait, I think I’m catching on!
There’s a line said to Cherry that is just, “You’re a junkie motherf*cker! With PTSD!” I get it now! I’m glad they finally outright explained the movie’s theme!
Everything in this movie is so heavy-handed and it honestly just started to infuriate me. I love that they have something that they want to say, but there didn’t seem to be any passion behind it or reason for saying it. In American Sniper, you feel the effects of PTSD because it’s obviously something the filmmakers and actors have strong feelings about. And they did the work to set up the character, which Cherry does not. In Trainspotting, your heart breaks for the people abusing drugs over and over again because the filmmakers are saying something specific and nuanced about what the characters are doing.
The Russos begin and end with, “Drugs are bad!” and they hit you over the head with that idea for 140 bloated minutes. Somehow, with that runtime, I still didn’t feel like I knew the characters by the end. The movie depicted a snowball effect in Cherry’s life where things just get worse and worse, but it felt like the movie started with the snowball already halfway down the hill. I didn’t get any of the character work to make me invested once his life started to implode.
The directors want to make an important movie about important subjects, but nothing about what they’re saying is new and nothing about what they’re saying is interesting. They’re just lucky they have an incredible lead like Holland, or else this would deserve less than the one and a half stars I gave it.
Because I do want to give credit to Holland and Ciara Bravo, who plays Cherry’s wife, Emily. These two have real chemistry, in the sense that they work well together. Holland and Zendaya have chemistry in the Spider-Man movies, but that’s a kind of charismatic chemistry. Holland’s chemistry with Bravo is perfect to show their parallel descent into drug abuse.
In my Chaos Walking review, I wrote about how I turned a corner with how I feel about Holland as an actor, and Cherry did so much to reaffirm that notion. Easily his best performance to date, it surpasses The Devil All the Time because Cherry actually makes sense as a real world story. Holland obviously did his homework on the life of a soldier, PTSD, and the life of a drug user. But while it’s one thing to prepare for a role, he goes out and absolutely owns the role. He displays so much range. From cockiness, to desperation, terror, anger, depression, hopelessness, and yes, even some happiness, Holland covers all his bases in this performance. And Bravo is right there with him for almost the whole thing. She has several credits on IMDb, but this was my first time seeing her and I came away incredibly impressed. They’re a singular bright spot in an otherwise awful and messy film.
Even with two leads who I legitimately enjoyed watching perform, this movie still made me angry a lot of the time. I just wanted one scene or one sequence where I wasn’t being told how to feel, and that’s the movie’s biggest problem. It’s telling you how to feel about every single thing that’s happening and that’s so inorganic. Instead of “show, don’t tell,” everything in this movie was “tell, don’t show.” I wish it had shown characters performing certain actions or being stuck in certain situations and just let the audience take it in. You can’t manufacture emotions or feelings, but you can set someone up to experience those things. Unfortunately, the Russos did neither and despite two great performances, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasted my time with Cherry.