In modern Hollywood, it isn’t uncommon for an indie filmmaker who’s recently made a film with some acclaim to be tapped by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and be given a lot more money than they’re used to for their next project. However, we rarely see this happen the other way, where Marvel mainstays attempt something more serious. Today, we’re looking at the Russo Brothers’ latest, Cherry, an Apple TV+ film (laughably) being positioned as an awards contender and acting showcase for Spider-Man’s Tom Holland. Shame this thing is pretty close to being an utter debacle.
Cherry follows an unnamed young man (Holland) as he joins the army and returns home to his girlfriend (Ciara Bravo) who waited for him while he was away. Now that he’s returned, he’s experiencing near crippling levels of PTSD, which leads the two down a nasty path of drug abuse and addiction. He later starts robbing banks to support their addiction, and the audience basically just sits back and watches this person’s life fall apart for two and a half hours, through long stretches of voiceover narration that reminds you how you’re supposed to be feeling about what’s happening onscreen at every possible moment.
Cherry is what would happen if Michael Bay directed a war movie, but also wanted it to be quote-unquote about something. Cherry is about nothing. Buried in a very worthwhile and emotionally accessible story about how America fails its combat veterans, we have a tonally incoherent, bafflingly executed, hollow, rambling, manipulative, over stylized and ultimately forgettable piece of processed cheese about how a person can do everything wrong and still find redemption, I guess? We’re supposed to deeply feel for Holland’s character and want things to work out for him as he stumbles over and over again on his path to redemption, but it was clear to me pretty early on that I didn’t care what happened to him, and the film never made me care.
I wish Tom Holland the best, and the failure of Cherry isn’t completely his fault, but it’s pretty hard to buy his performance in this. Imagine the kid from Spider-Man going to war, robbing banks and shooting dope in the middle of a street while music swells and police sirens blaze in the background. It’s just something I feel he was not ready for at this point in his career. Again, I’m not blaming him entirely, he’s giving this film his all, but there’s ultimately a lot here that demands more of him than he can offer. Maybe he’s just slacked with some terrible scene direction, but often a truly powerful emotional moment is followed by something truly laughable.
Ciara Bravo plays Holland’s long-suffering girlfriend Emily, and she’s roughly the same age as Holland, and she looks like she’s about 15 years old for the entire movie. When you look like you’re the person too young for the role next to Tom Holland, there might be a problem here. But looking beyond that, Emily kind of has no personality and no life of her own. We never hear about her dreams and what she wants her life to become, because her story is basically to be an extension of whatever Holland’s character is going through. She waits for him again and again and she does nothing else.
The Russo Brothers are directing this like an important indie with a giant budget. Lots of camerawork and editing feels erratic and over-produced and it feels like the film has no idea how to let a moment breathe. While there are a few points that work – the sequence of the horror experienced while in the army is suitably disturbing – it doesn’t land when it needs to. Some of it is also seems to have an almost surreal sense of self-awareness, and you realize this may not be genuine emotionally at all. As we see our hero’s desperation as the situation around him increasingly worsens, we’re not on the edge of our seats, hoping things work out for him. We’re checked out and we’re looking at our watches and trying to figure out how much of this is left.
The screenplay by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, adapting the semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker is, unfortunately, stacked high with every war movie and drug addiction movie cliché imaginable, and never has anything new to bring to the conversation. And to its credit, Cherry does seem like it wants to trigger a conversation about the opioid crisis in America, or trauma suffered by combat veterans, or the American dream on a macro level, but it’s too scattered to pick a lane and stay there, and ultimately says nothing about a lot of things. It also seems to be romanticizing drug abuse and I doubt that was the intent, but drugs are never quite as scary as they should be in Cherry. Our two main characters are both addicts that lean on each other’s addiction and use each other as a crutch and the implications of that are potentially pretty damaging.
Ultimately, I’m not even sure I’d call Cherry a misfire with good intentions. The Russo Brothers wanted an Oscar. They won’t get one. I would be surprised if even Marvel welcomed the Russos back with open arms after this. There’s that thing happening here where the movie is about a half hour too long, and also maybe too short. I feel like this may have actually worked as a six-hour miniseries on HBO, but I don’t think I would have cared enough to watch one minute more of this. I really hope this doesn’t hurt Tom Holland moving forward. He does have a lot of charm and talent, and his career will be ready for something like this eventually but not today. Lucky for Holland, Cherry is an Apple TV+ original, and no one will see it.