The problem with directing the highest-grossing film of all time is that it leaves you very few places to go. Should you continue to chase the big bucks with another box office smash, or perhaps opt for a smaller, more intimate project with less commercial appeal? For Joe and Anthony Russo, who helmed superhero behemoth Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the answer was to turn their attention to what they’ve described as their “most personal film” yet. That film is Cherry, an adaptation of the 2018 novel of the same name, which follows a young man’s descent into opioid addiction and bank robbery after a stint as an army medic in Iraq.
If that sounds intriguing then be warned – personal or not, Cherry is a complete mess. Baggy, brash and stylised to an intolerable degree, the movie fails to say anything remotely interesting during a bloated two-and-a-half-hour runtime, whilst also being devoid of any rhythm, nuance or heart.
The film begins with footage of a bank robbery, with star Tom Holland providing the first of many bouts of explanatory voiceover, before we flash back to his school days and a meeting with love-of-his-life Emily (Ciara Bravo). We then follow his life through six stages – each earmarked by bright red chapter titles – as the character’s life and relationship slowly unravel, his spell in Iraq leaving him with undiagnosed PTSD and sending him on a seemingly irreversible downward spiral.
Along the way, the film touches on a number of interesting themes – including masculinity, addiction and PTSD, but it only ever does so at an extremely superficial level. At every turn, the Russo brothers seem more concerned with using these topics as an outlet for more flashy visuals than in exploring them with anything approaching originality or genuine insight.
Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is that over the course of its six chapters it never settles into any kind of rhythm, in no small part due to the Russos’ constant insistence on disrupting the flow with needlessly overbearing stylistic touches.
This haphazard construction also makes it difficult to buy into the film’s more emotional moments, with the audience having been kept at arm’s length throughout by the constant onslaught of bombast. Whereas subtlety isn’t necessarily required in the blockbuster superhero movie – a genre in which the Russos excelled – a lighter touch certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss here, especially in the occasional failed attempts at lyricism, such as a ridiculous black and white, slo-mo shot of Holland throwing some leaves in the air.
Perhaps the most irritating of all the film’s stylistic choices, though, is the endless expository voiceover. Hardly five minutes go by without Holland chiming in with some inane piece of narration, spelling everything out so relentlessly that the material almost functions better as an audiobook than a film. You sense that Cherry is modelling itself on something like Goodfellas, but whereas Martin Scorsese used narration to provide colour and humour, there’s little personality to Holland’s frequent ramblings – they serve to explain things and nothing else. At one point, he literally informs the audience, “And that is how we became addicts”. The dialogue isn’t much better, either – one particularly cringeworthy scene early on sees Emily proclaim, “Sometimes I feel like love doesn’t actually exist, it’s just pheromones playing tricks on us.”
At least the performances are decent – Holland is an unquestionably charismatic talent, and he does share a degree of chemistry with Bravo. But even then there’s a feeling that he’s been slightly miscast: we can buy him as a disgruntled teenager and even as a scared army medic, but he’s less convincing in the film’s latter stages as an opioid addict and bank robber. Perhaps he’s a victim of his own clean-cut image here – and indeed Holland himself has said that he had reservations about taking on a more gritty role.
In the UK, Cherry will be available exclusively on streaming service Apple TV+, and so there’s little chance the film will be seen by as wide an audience as the Russos’ previous effort. Having seen the film, perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.
Cherry is streaming on Apple TV+ from Friday 12th March 2021 – check out our Movies hub for all the latest news
Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.