Based on the hit semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, Cherry is the story of one man’s descent into chaos
The first film from the Russo brothers since their goliath Marvel run, Cherry sees the directors reunite with their Spiderman, Tom Holland. Holland stars as a college dropout who joins the army as a combat medic fresh off the back of heartbreak after being dumped by his girlfriend. After serving in the ”triangle of death” in Iraq in the early 2000s and seeing numerous horrors he finds himself back in his midwestern hometown with no money and untreated PTSD to boot. We follow Holland’s unnamed protagonist (credited only as ”Cherry”) and his wife as his declining mental health leads them to opioid addiction; and when the money runs out, robbing banks to fund their habit.
It’s clear with both this film and last years The Devil All The Time that Holland is not content to sit back and rake in the cash as your typical young action heart throb – he’s chasing serious dramatic vehicles too, and we’re glad to see it. From his debut in 2012’s harrowing The Impossible via the weird and wonderful films he’s made in the Marvel off season Holland has proved himself to be a young actor of great talent and range.
Credit to the Russos, this film is a considerably more artistic effort than their advertising campaign may have led audiences to believe, perhaps serving as a way to showcase all the more creative impulses they may not have got away with under Kevin Feige’s ”please the masses” regime. The film is split into clear chapters for each progressive phase of the story and each has separate titles. Each chapter features a different aspect ratio, different colour palettes and super stylized production and shot design to create a sort of hyperreality as we get deeper and deeper into Cherry’s destruction. Holland narrates the film directly to the audience throughout, staring down the camera at times with a sitcom worthy deadpan.
These stylistic choices made divide some audiences, forcing at times heavy handed aesthetics onto a gritty story. For the first segment (where Cherry meets the girl, falls in love, gets his heart broken and so joins the army) I found the narration a little grating. It sort of reminded me of reading Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time as a teenager and thinking the narrator was devastatingly profound and then rereading it as an adult and finding it pretentious. I guess that’s what teenagers are like though.
The introspective, dreamy narration does find its place as the film progresses and becomes a strength when we get to the really dark chapters, which are, well, really dark. The war segment is a particular highlight, Holland doing a great job of portraying the abject fear of being thrust into a warzone whilst also musing on the rapidly dawning realisation that his friends are dying (very gruesomely I might add) for nothing. There’s no aggrandizing of war here.
The descent into drug addiction is well done too, the film not being afraid to dig into the grit and gruesomeness with some disgusting scenes that don’t quite approach the ick factor of Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream, but they certainly skirt around the edges of it. Holland reportedly lost 30 pounds for this segment and the transformation into a broken man is a pretty stark one
. His ability to emote so strongly with just his eyes served him well as a standout in Avengers ”death” and ”dust” scenes and continues to impress now. His co-star, newcomer Ciara Bravo, also does a great job of portraying the fragility and mania associated with addiction and the fact that they are both so baby-faced certainly only adds to the tragedy of it all.
For all it does well, it’s not a perfect film. Cherry does feel around 20 minutes too long and whilst some of the chapters are great, for me that first one doesn’t quite hit home. It also occasionally tonally falls flat as there are a few attempts at comedy which don’t really land, making them stand out as really odd. The trauma, however, really does work. At its best when the characters are at their worst, Cherry is a well told (though grim) odyssey with plenty to admire and features another fantastic turn from continually rising star Tom Holland.
Cherry is being distributed as an Apple TV Original and will be streaming globally from 12th March 2021