Review: Tom Holland can't salvage uninspired drug addiction drama 'Cherry'
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Cut from the same cloth as their superhero epics, Joe and Anthony Russo’s uneven and insipid drug addiction drama “Cherry” is a woefully misguided exercise in ego stoking. It’d be hard for anyone to follow-up “Avengers: Endgame” - the highest grossing film of all time - but if any duo had the edge, I assumed it would be the Russo’s, who’s previous Marvel films moved with quickness and seldom wasted precious screen time. At 140 minutes, “Cherry” runs the same length of “Captain America: Civil War” and features Spider-Man himself: Tom Holland, but feels padded with filler. Holland, obviously trying to prove he’s a versatile actor thanks to “The Devil All the Time” and now “Cherry,” can’t salvage an uneven drama where any awards prospects (surely what the filmmakers hoped for) is dead on arrival.
On paper, the Russo’s working together with Holland for a prestige drama isn’t the worst idea. Both parties are riding tremendous momentum and the drug epidemic is a relevant issue worthy of exploration. But their stylistic approach never gels with the material: constant fourth wall breaks and trying to mend satirical elements with quick jump cuts and tricky angles creates a Michael Bay knockoff (you can take Marvel out of the filmmaker, but you can’t take the director out of Marvel). By approaching “Cherry” with the same kinetic madness of a Marvel film, the Russo Brothers undercut the tragic story being told. Holland, to his credit, finds layers and moments to shine, but he’s over-directed and clearly overwhelmed.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, an Army vet who used drugs to help cope with PTSD, Holland plays Cherry who opens the movie talking to the audience during a bank robbery. This commentary becomes a running tactic used throughout the movie and The Russo’s double back on the narrative to show us how Cherry got in that situation. Very big “It wasn’t always like this” energy.
In his early days, Cherry was an average student in Ohio who fawned over his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo). But the film (and his life) quickly shifts gears and the script by Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot – unspooled over six chapters and a prologue – couldn’t be more pretensions. It quickly breezes through important narrative context as if we’re getting the SparkNotes version of what happened. There’s a montage of Cherry’s early days in basic training (complete with a full-scale shot from inside Holland’s rectum) until he ends up in a convoy and is almost killed. The obligatory: “you popped your cherry” line is sprinkled in as to confirm what the audience already knew. Once home, the repressed trauma starts festering and Cherry finds himself on the other end of needles and planning robberies to fuel his addiction, bringing Emily down with him.
“Cherry” is an assortment of visual flair that’s reach doesn’t extend far, leaving Holland and Bravo scrambling for cover. They’re playing caricatures of real people without much humanity. That’s not the actor’s fault, but they and the subject matters deserved better than a hyperkinetic true-story that’s all bark and no bite. Nothing new is confirmed about trauma or addiction leaving you to wonder if the Russo’s time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rotted their creative juices or emboldened them more. Either way, “Cherry” is a hodgepodge of several different ideas that never become fully realized.
CHERRY debuts on APPLE TV+ Friday, March 12th