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- Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
- Written by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, based on the novel by Nico Walker
- Starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo and Jack Reynor
- Classification R; 140 minutes
Is it possible to feel sorry for the directors of the biggest blockbuster in history?
After conquering the world with the cultural behemoth Avengers: Endgame, sibling filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo decided to use their industry leverage to make their passion project: an adaptation of Nico Walker’s acclaimed 2018 novel, Cherry. Bereft of superheroes and explosions and franchise obligations, and made for approximately one-17th the budget of a single day of Endgame craft services, Cherry would be the Russos’ “one for me” project – a film that proved the brothers are still the scrappy independent filmmakers they started their careers as and not merely trusted hands for the corporate interests of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Oops. With my sincere apologies to the Russo family – because this is a true family affair, with Anthony and Joe hiring one of their two sisters, Angela Russo-Otstot, to co-write the script – Cherry is a mess. Nonsensically stylized, wildly overlong and constantly mistaking yelling for dramatic tension, the film unintentionally underlines everything that made the Russos’ Avengers films so sloppy. (I realize that I’m in the extreme MCU minority on this opinion, but trust me – after watching Cherry you will not be able to ignore the egregious seams in Infinity War and Endgame’s patchwork construction.)
Split into six chapters, each with their own arbitrary production design, colour palettes and aspect ratios, Cherry follows the life of an unnamed Cleveland man (the Russos’ erstwhile Spider-Man, Tom Holland) as he cycles through a life of a particular form of lower-middle-class American misery. After a complicated breakup with his college sweetheart Emily (Ciara Bravo), our sorta-hero joins the U.S. Army, comes home with post-traumatic stress disorder, develops a crippling drug addiction and eventually turns to a life of crime.
Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel, which he wrote while in prison for bank robbery, was enthusiastically received, with the Russos snapping up adaptation rights for $1-million just days after publication. Yet it becomes increasingly clear throughout Cherry’s bloated duration (it is only 20 minutes shorter than Infinity War, itself stretched out beyond reasonability) that the brothers had no real idea what they wanted to do with Walker’s text other than use it as a canvas upon which they could splatter some truly baffling directorial eccentricities.
From the brothers’ “in media res” opening – which perhaps intentionally evokes Twitter’s favourite “Yep, that’s me; you’re probably wondering how I got into this situation...” joke – to their near-assaultive bombardment of all-over-the-map aesthetics, Cherry feels less like the work of established filmmakers and more an immature calling card. (There is also a curiously copious amount of product placement for Subway sandwiches, but maybe that was just me attempting to anchor my viewing experience in something genuinely interesting.)
As is the case with the Russos’ Marvel films, the performers weather the circumstances best. Holland appears to be genuinely distressed in almost every second of action, even though his attempt to grow a jailhouse moustache approximates a child’s Halloween costume. Midsommar’s jerk-in-chief Jack Reynor is appropriately despicable as a drug dealer named, sigh, Pills & Coke. And Bravo, as the girlfriend who breaks our hero’s heart only to get later sucked into his downward spiral, is something close to a revelation; you believe that men would rob banks to secure her attention.
Yet not one of the actors can save the Russos’ film from being a chore. I’m quasi-confident that, in their heart, the brothers felt they were creating a strong, artistically minded rebuke to those who feel they are only fit to choreograph CGI-enabled destruction. But Cherry? It’s a bomb.
Cherry is available to stream on Apple TV+ starting March 12.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.