“Cherry” represents an opportunity for directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as actor Tom Holland, to expand their talents beyond the superhero world. But this multi-layered drama lacks the nuance to tell a story about a medic who suffers from addiction and PSTD and turns to a life of crime and drugs in order to cope with all of his traumas. It is not an unmitigated disaster, but it just falls into the familiar tropes and delivers something that is all style but no substance.
Based on Nico Waller’s book of the same name, Cherry centers on a nameless protagonist, whom we will call Cherry (Holland) for the sake of clarity, who falls for a girl named Emily (Ciara Bravo). Though they make for a cute couple, Emily reveals that she is heading to Montreal for college. As a result, Cherry hastily decides to enlist in the military. A decision he will soon regret as Emily changes her mind. Though they get married, the distance between the two plus the added traumas of a grueling basic training as well as his experience on tour begin to take a toll on Cherry. So much so, it leaves the medic emotionally scarred. Of course, that seems to be remedied when Cherry’s doctor offers him a prescription of OxyContin. Another thing he will regret when he becomes addicted. And in order to feed that addiction, Cherry starts to rob banks.
Soon, this film turns into something that resembles a stylized tragedy rather than a commentary on addiction and trauma. This could have been a revealing observation on the treatment of veterans who return home after living through the hardships of war. In fact, the film offers very little value when it comes to tell an all-encompassing story about Cherry’s trauma where he experiences horrific action in Iran and Afghanistan. However, these sequences feel reductive to the message and it comes down to the idea that war is bad. The fallout of Cherry and Emily’s binge on drugs also offers the obvious observation that drugs are bad. And then it comes down to Cherry’s crimes in order to feed is addiction, which basically tells us that, well you know where I am going with this.
Holland does the most with what he is given, which is unfortunate because it was a chance for him to be so much more than just the superhero that he is known for. And the same can be said for the Russos who have been behind the camera for four of the best superhero films to date. The thing is like the title character “Cherry’s” script is entirely hollow and devoid of any real substance. Additionally, the Russo’s stylized aesthetics, which were prevalent in their previous works, find there way into a film that is trying to address some serious issues. Ultimately, it doesn’t have much to say anything about the reality of traumas and the dangers of addiction.
And yet, one has to respect the directing duo for at least trying to make a name for themselves post MCU-tenure. And Walker’s experiences would serve as the basis for his semi-autographical book, which would eventually be turned into the film. It’s hard to tell a story like Walker’s which is heavily layered and full of nuanced. But rather than focus on those smaller details, the film hastily moves through it all just to get to the dense action sequences that do not amount to much. In fact, the real emotional aspects are turned into your garden variety cliches. And in a way, the film disrespects Walker’s story because there is very little emotion or humanity.
Still, we have to give a lot of credit for Holland powering through the weak material he is given. And even though he gives a solid performance, he is unfortunately miscast in the film, because there is just no way to get away from those good looks or boyish charms. And it is impossible to take any of it seriously considering that the film takes place within a span of 15 years. It also doesn’t help that Emily hardly ages as well.
Walker’s semi-autobiographical work would have made for an excellent cinematic tragedy and love story that is also a commentary on the treatment of veterans once they have completed their duties as soldiers. But it’s the Russo’s visual styles that takes precedent over the story. Which, again, is very unfortunate, because it was a film that had a real chance to give both the Russos and Holland the space they needed to be more than what they are typically known for.
Because “Cherry” robs its audience of the emotional nuance of a very real and very human story, there is very little to like about it. Though the frenzied action and narrative bouncing is done in order to reflect Cherry’s unstable state of mind, but what is missing is the humanity of it all. Honestly, the film uses Walker’s semi-autobiographical work as more of a crutch so that they can get to the action. And what is missing from this is the real beating heart which veteran experience after returning from a traumatic war.
“Cherry” opens in theaters on February 26, 2020, and on AppleTV+ on March 12.