With everyone preoccupied on whether movie theaters will survive the pandemic, it’s easy to miss the streaming revolution happening right beneath our feet: Netflix and Hulu aren’t the game’s only big-money players anymore. Knowing this town ain’t big enough for all of them, the new kids on the block are making plays for our attention, hoping to generate enough conversation for people to subscribe out of FOMO. Apple TV+ hopes their newest film, Cherry, will be the hook that brings people in, and it might – knowing it’s from the directors of Avengers: Endgame and stars Marvel’s current Spider-Man, Tom Holland, is a draw for many. But I can say fairly confidently it won’t be the thing that keeps people from bailing after the free trial.
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Nico Walker, Cherry is also the name of his surrogate protagonist (Holland), a young man who narrates the story of how he came to be a serial bank robber. He meets Emily (Ciara Bravo) while attending college and declares her the love of his life, but he impulsively enlists in the army after an argument that seemed to mean the end of their relationship. Though they reconcile and she agrees to wait for him while he serves two years in Iraq, he returns traumatized by the experience, and when America’s inadequate mental health infrastructure pushes him to self-medicate, the idyllic life he and Emily hoped to share looks increasingly out of reach.
Though clearly made with lofty intentions, Cherry is a creative misfire, taking whatever might have been compelling about the content and drowning it in style. Used properly, heavily stylized filmmaking can immerse audiences in a perspective or storyworld, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo are seemingly just emulating every cool movie they’ve ever seen. Though perhaps diverting for a time, the emotional impact of their flashy choices is virtually nil, and what exceptions there are can’t justify the 2h20m runtime. The screenplay surely shares the blame for this alienation – it’s unlikely the characters would have been more engaging if forced out in the open to fend for themselves.
One person I don’t hold at all responsible is Tom Holland, who delivers a committed performance that, despite everything working against him, manages to occasionally reach us through the fog. His character’s pain comes through in small moments of body language, such as the panicked way he holds up a bank, or in glances, like the concern for Emily in his eyes as he wakes from a nightmare that still grips and shakes his body. That he is not enough to carry the viewing experience is no fault of his talent, and I look forward to seeing him take on more roles in this vein (and that of The Devil All the Time). A far more open question, however, is whether the Russo brothers can handle this type of material as successfully as they do superhero blockbusters and TV comedies. And for those reading this after they decided to get Apple TV+, I recommend starting Ted Lasso – it will cure whatever disappointment Cherry has left you with.