Anthony and Joe Russo pick up where they left in the aftermath of blockbuster classic (in the making), Avengers: Endgame with a provoking adaptation of Nico Walker‘s semi-autobiographical novel, Cherry. Written in a US prison, the 2018 novel follows a ‘cherry’ (slang for a fresh soldier in the battle) with his frail love story, his visceral tour in Iraq Wars along with the PTSD, his descend into illegal drugs, and his eventual notoriety as a bank robber. The cherry is Tom Holland in another attempt to shed the school-boy style out of his repertoire.
Related Post: Review: The Devil All the Time (2020)
Cherry is an American story by heart. It’s the story where wars that an innocent man into a killer who, upon returning, can’t eventually find a place in society. It’s a long dramatic chronicle that hinted at a biographical epic; but, on the inside, it’s a love story gone wrong.
The protagonist (Holland), referred to as ‘Cherry’, starts as a boy with nothing resembling any solid character; but, when he falls for Emily (Ciara Bravo) he falls hard. To his luck, the girl loves him back citing something like “I like weak boys” as the reason. At this point, the war has maybe heated up in the background. However, the story will only get there after a series of miscommunication between the lovebirds. What started as an honest mistake has forced the protagonist to enlist in Iraq —fulfilling his destiny to become the Cherry.
Iraq has been an excruciating experience for the cherry. He struggles with the idea of how ridiculous American views of war are —a series of wicked propaganda that leads to the extermination of people whether they’re friends or foes. The harrowing moments in Iraq follow Cherry back home where PTSD gets ahold of him. Emily’s sincere support to usher Cherry back into normal life only traps her into the life they choose to be. The couple swiftly and madly bonds over drugs before they find themselves troubled with massive debt. That’s where Cherry resorts to the unthinkable: to live the life of an outlaw in modern America.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, Cherry feels a tad too long, but also too congested at the same time. Russo Brothers, working on a screenplay by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, present the film in several chapters including the prologue and epilogue —staging each chapter like a completely different story. The narrative feels episodic with each chapter dabbles too eagerly into topics, like the war, PTSD, drugs abuse, or bank robbery. With little stakes and a lack of climax in each chapter, the whole life journey feels as if it’s more suitable for a mini-series rather than a feature film. There’s no real arc for the characters or any awaited redemption; each moment is like a repetitive punishment for the protagonist for every little thing that went wrong in his life.
Related Post: Review: The Lost City of Z (2017)
The film can’t seem to find the common ground for each chapter. The mood shifts from being self-mockery to self-pitying as the story progresses. At one point, Cherry feels like a thought-provoking anti-war story; some other time, it’s an overlong Green Day’s music videos where teen angst is bound to disasters that follow. At one point, it’s a hilarious, reflective black comedy; but, most of the time the comedic timings are completely off —making a blow-back for the MCU directors (who also directs a crisp comedy, You, Me and Dupree).
The source material’s somber nature might make the depressing comedy untransferable to the screen. Cherry isn’t a sad clown paradox material; the irony and the hilarity are contemplative tools in a rather bleak story. Any comedic moment attached to it has to capture the reflective message perfectly, otherwise, they will feel misplaced. That’s exactly what happens under Russo Brothers’ direction.
For Holland, his engaging performance in Cherry makes a back-to-back effort (along with the one in The Devil All the Time) to crack the shell of his boyish persona. This film puts quite a show for him as he shed the school-boy persona quite literally in the story, even when his baby-face feature seems out of place (so does Bravo‘s evergreen youth). However, he’s the mainstay of Cherry; he’s the one that makes the constant perils in the film less tedious with a dramatic range he showcases. We can feel the frustration that looms over his character constantly albeit in various forms. Holland is possibly having his hardest-hitting performance of his career; but, Russo Brothers’ unfocused and unnecessarily over-styled direction might hinder him from having the time of his life.
Even with the massive duration to put everything at once, Cherry keeps lacking something. The story simply cannot find its voice amongst the thematically crowded epic-wannabe. From war, obviously, PTSD, drugs, to street crimes, all this film attempts to discover is the red thread —the common ground; but, it comes to futility after most momentums are lost within its painful duration.