The Russo Brothers follow up their Avengers movies with an art film starring Tom Holland as a heroin-addicted veteran with PTSD
How do you follow up the highest-grossing movie in the world? If you’re Anthony and Joe Russo, you do it with a hard-R pivot away from family-friendly action blockbusters and tell a darker story to prove you’re serious filmmakers. Even better: get one of your teen-throb superhero actors like Tom Holland to join you. So if the eagerly outré Cherry feels a bit extra, it’s probably because of all the overcompensation. Sure, Avengers: Endgame might be a hard act to follow. But do we really need to see a drooling Spider-Man shoot heroin into his ankle?
CHERRY ★(1/5 stars)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Angela Russo-Otstot, Jessica Goldberg
Starring: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor
Running time: 140 min
Holland headlines as the eponymous antihero, a soft-headed young man who falls in love, gets his heart broken, joins the army, gets his ass kicked, then comes home and starts robbing banks to support a PTSD-triggered opioid addition. It’s based on a well-reviewed picaresque autobiography by Nico Walker that sours the American Dream into a harrowing tragedy. I haven’t read the book, but I can say with certainty that the Russo brothers have done everything possible to tell this story with almost no originality. Sucks that a real-life PTSD-addled junkie vet is now reduced to slo-mo camera moves, classic rock needle drops and the occasional opera cue, all cribbed right from a wannabe-Scorsese handbook.
Cherry is broken up into different sections, like book chapters, using big white on-screen text over blood-red monochromatic backgrounds for self-evident announcements like “BASIC” when Cherry goes to basic training; “HOME” when he goes back home; and “DOPE LIFE” when he sinks into a life of dope. Thanks, self-evident announcements!
Also struggling to dispel confusion: Cherry’s logorrheic voiceover, which overexplains and yet under-illuminates every plot point. The actual dialogue isn’t much better. “Sometimes I feel like love doesn’t really exist,” sighs Emily (Ciara Bravo), Cherry’s girlfriend and eventual wife. Deep. “While you do this,” I’m gonna do that” is another actual line from the movie. So is: “Oh, no! Fuck shit, shit fuck.” There’s a lot of foul language throughout. Because fuck that Marvel shit! This is fucking art!
Along with the cascade of curses is a nonstop barrage of overcranked Steadicam shots and an overindulgence of shallow wide-angle lenses. The Russos do not like an idle image. They do seem overly fond of Scorsese, though. At least when they’re not ripping off Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket for Cherry’s military training. The Russos also change the aspect ratio for these scenes, because this is their art film.
Did I mention we see the world through Tom Holland’s asshole? A colonic view of the world is part of the medical checkup scene. This seems to signal a cheeky swivel towards satire, which comes intermittently and with little explanation. Back in the states, a discharged and distraught Cherry sees a “Dr. Whomever” for his PTSD. That’s what it says on the physician’s clothing and desk plate, which the camera barely shows. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it lark. Not sure why it’s played so coy. More obvious rib-ticklers are the targets of Cherry’s grand larceny. He’s robbing places like Shittybank, Capitalist One, and Bank Fucks America. Funny, but random, appearing late in the film and not developed beyond more than just a sight gag.
That toss-off aesthetic is on-brand for the handsomely lensed and expensive-looking film, a semi-schizophrenic grab-bag that wants to be a semisweet romance, veers into antiwar territory, becomes a cautionary tale of addition and then becomes a jokey crime flick. Shorthand character development abounds, in lieu of actual human insight. “I never saw him again,” says Cherry about an unremarkable peripheral character. Poignant? Not so much. The central relationship is even worse: Cherry and Emily mostly express devotion by crying and hugging each other a lot. Does Emily O.D.? Spoiler alert: of course, and you won’t care either.
Cherry’s bloated running time doesn’t help matters, as it keeps spinning its wheels while stylistically copycatting more interesting war movies and addict films and love stories. There’s a flop-sweat sensibility to the proceedings, like treading water when you can’t really swim. Aspiring auteurs really shouldn’t look so thirsty. Or so sloppy.