Cherry marks Anthony and Joe Russo’s first foray into the drama genre, reuniting with Spider-Man actor Tom Holland for a story that demands the utmost of its lead. The directing duo tackles a whole gambit of themes: romance, drug addiction, military, bank heists, and more drugs. But does it all work cohesively? The Avengers: Endgame helmers inject a stylistic and engaging take on these serious subjects. However, it’s the remarkable performance from Holland that keeps everything afloat.
Based on Nico Walker’s book of the same name, Cherry follows the journey of a young Ohio man named Cherry (Holland). Early on, we see him meet the love of his life, Emily (Ciara Bravo). But soon later, he risks losing her through a series of mistakes and challenging life circumstances. After dropping out of college to serve in Iraq as an Army medic, he arrives back home with PTSD and on a path to heavy drug use. Desperate to support his addiction, the man resorts to robbing banks, risking his relationship with Emily along the way. Working off a solid screenplay from Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, the Russos deliver an experience unlike any other.
When it isn’t trying too hard to feel unique, Cherry does a satisfying job of putting the audience through the lens of its protagonist. There is a certain amount of morality he possesses that one can relate to. But this is someone very vulnerable in a world with deception and false honor. Cherry’s decisions will tear audiences, but that’s the point: he is a man heavily influenced by his surroundings. Despite his deteriorating moral compass, you can sympathize with him. Throughout, Holland gives it his all, conveying a sense of nuance and the right amount of craziness.
His romance with Emily anchors the film, sometimes to a halt. However, the story captures a moment in time that feels grounded. Bravo holds her own opposite Holland, providing an emotional performance that doesn’t undersell the reality of their situation. As the couple falls hard into drug addiction, their relationship takes a deep dive, and everything around them falls apart.
The rest of the supporting cast feature faces new and old, with Jack Reynor’s drug dealer bringing much of the film’s levity, as much as a tragic story can provide. Jeff Wahlberg and Forrest Goodluck, who play Cherry’s closest friends, also stand out despite their limited roles. Wahlberg, in particular, helps ground the story as the Russos simultaneously extract the ridiculous and tragic parts of modern war.
In fact, when the Russos start experimenting visually during the military sequences, that’s when their stylistic intentions feel most effective. The intense changes to aspect ratio and lens successfully capture the absurdity of boot camp and the graphic reality of war. This stretch of the film felt the strongest tonally and thematically, setting the stage for our protagonist’s depressing downfall.
Elsewhere, the Russos’ attempts to subvert the genre and inject their unique vision can unintentionally lean into absurdity. Whether it’s the flashy, overexplanatory title cards or Cherry’s fourth-wall-breaking, the stylization can feel excessive. The tragic drug-taking sequences are sometimes sabotaged by Michael Bay-esque visuals that threaten to undermine the meaningful subtext. However, when it works, it really works. The military sequences and the bank robberies are intense, awkwardly funny, and move the story forward in a productive manner.
The ending may split some as it rushes to give our protagonist a crowd-pleasing conclusion instead of letting the events of the film breathe in the minds of the audience. Things wrap up a bit too neatly, especially taking into account the drastic turns in its final hour that puts our protagonist through hell. I’m not totally against the idea it presents by the end, but I thought it felt unearned narratively and pacing-wise.
Aside from a few jarring creative decisions, the Russos successfully deliver a story that allows Holland to stretch his acting muscles. The success rate of the visual aesthetic will vary for some, but I found that the positives outweighed the negatives. Cherry works the best when it’s subtle and vulnerable, and while some of the over-stylization threatens to uproot its intentions, the fantastic sequences and a career-best Holland keep things grounded. – Marcos Melendez
Cherry is set to premiere in select theaters on February 26, and globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, March 12.