By Maddy Raven, Film and TV Editor
I tried really hard to like Cherry. Well, I tried for ten minutes.
I feel a strange sort of camaraderie with Tom Holland – we are both terrible at not spoiling films and climb anything in sight. However, I’m not in danger of developing a weird, symbiotic relationship with the Russo Brothers (think Maddie Ziegler and Sia). I also haven’t starred in a film which somehow addresses the disenfranchisement of the working class in America, the school to military pipeline and opioid addiction, all while centring the experience of yet another white guy.
From the start of the film, it’s obvious that this is a story with an unreliable narrator. Stylised moments, such as when Cherry confronts a bank teller over an unpaid bill, are striking in the fact that they become rarer as the film progresses. Wonderful moments of imagination – hiding the bank teller’s face in shadow, Ciara Bravo sat on a swing in her underwear, dead soldiers floating up out of the darkness, covered in gore, showing the inner landscape of the young man’s brain – are just that. Rather than delving further into Cherry’s psyche, the film relies on his deadpan, straight-to-camera delivery of short one-liners. He’s a poet, a soldier, a medic, a lover, and, actually, kind of annoying.
The intention seems to be that Cherry is a Nice Guy. Moreover, Ciara Bravo’s character, Emily, at one point tells him that she’s always had a thing for ‘weak guys’. Emily’s character is definitely surrounded by an aura of Jenny in Forrest Gump (1994) - there is a brief mention of a sad past where her father hit her, and this causes her to push Cherry away and ultimately fall into opioid addiction alongside him. So she likes weak men. If this was an attempt by the film to bring Cherry’s masculinity into question and talk about his identity, it’s a near miss.
Looking back over my notes, after about half an hour I wrote: “I don’t know, I guess I’m supposed to like him because he’s this sweet, sensitive soul – a weedy guy who falls in love with a broken girl and she keeps hurting his feelings but the attempts at ‘he’s a male feminist’ ring pretty hollow when twenty minutes ago he was judging some other girl for dancing on a table (which she’s allowed to do).” This frustration continued throughout the film.
Cherry is surrounded by impenetrable plot armour: as my friends and I like to say, he simply survives the film through the sheer Power of White People. In fact, I think the Russo brothers intend for the viewer to believe that Cherry behaves exceptionally morally. They attempt to create a moral distinction between Cherry and his fellow soldiers by showing another soldier teasing poor children in the Iraqi war zone where they’re stationed – Cherry looks on in quiet horror. However, I find it pretty difficult to draw the distinction between him and his fellow soldiers, mainly because he’s still in the army.
This becomes plot development as Cherry begins to realise that the world is cruel, everything is terrible and nothing he does has any effect.
This could’ve been a really interesting film which talks about the way in which many young men in America turned to the Army for employment in the noughties and came back to inadequate healthcare often spiralled into addiction and petty crime. This happened to all kinds of men, too. However, telling this story from the perspective of a white man who is surrounded by Black and Hispanic men who are killed off for plot development or treated as so pathetic that Cherry has to look after them is a kick in the teeth. It’s insulting.
Cherry goes on to receive a medal for being a fantastic army medic, and when he is presented with his medal, he is nauseatingly humble. To camera, he says that his only achievement is not dying – and I agree!
After all of this disenfranchisement suffered by Cherry – he and his plucky band of friends suffer from the inevitable pull of war, and in a drug fuelled haze, he thinks it’s a good idea to drag his friend, who clearly has a learning disability, into a bank robbery with him and he is reformed by the American prison system.
He also grows the worst moustache I have ever seen. I hated it.
What did you think of Cherry?