There is no denying Tom Holland has developed some genuine star power very quickly into his career. Being Spider-Man is sure to catapult anyone straight onto the A-List, but Tom Holland has taken his fame and run with it by being preposterously charming during press interviews and backed it up with consistently good performances. His turns in The Lost City of Z and The Devil All The Time showcased levels of maturity, much different to the happy-go-lucky Peter Parker we’ve become so accustomed to. His latest venture, Cherry, which reunites him with Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo is another string to his acting bow. The film itself, meanwhile, struggles to keep up with the sterling effort Holland puts into every scene.
Tom Holland is Cherry, our guide through five tumultuous years from 2002-2007, that tracks his progress from love-struck college student to homesick soldier to PTSD-suffering drug addict to bank robber. Conceived as an adaptation from the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Nico Walker, Cherry shoots for the moon with its ambition but regularly falls short through an absolute lack of focus.
Alarm bells are sure to be ringing at the description of Cherry’s journey throughout the film because of just how much strives to be covered in a short space of time. Regardless of the film’s 140-minute runtime, it crams so much plot into it that, mercifully, the runtime flies by. You are never settled into one of the film’s various genres for long enough to ever become bored by it, though this is one of the film’s bigger problems. Cherry tries to be a coming-of-age romantic comedy, a war film, a drama about the American opioid epidemic, and a crime thriller all at the same time and not all of them manage to be the best version of themselves.
The opening romantic comedy segment, which tackles young love, sex, break ups and make ups, is arguably the film’s strongest, aided by charming performances from Holland and Ciara Bravo. Cherry and Emily are a match made in heaven at times, absolutely convincing as completely infatuated with each other, and their development in the early sequences of the film help elevate the film’s later scenes when the two are reunited after Cherry’s tour in Iraq. Bravo, in particular, has a magnetic energy about her that draws both the camera and your gaze towards her with ease, and her impressive performance allows her characters more self-destructive tendencies (a fear of commitment, being one) to feel believable.
Effective performances continue throughout, from Cherry’s best friend James Lightfoot (Forrest Goodluck), his army medic colleague Jiminez (Jeff Wahlberg), and a particularly gonzo performance from Jack Reynor as drug dealer, Pills ‘n’ Coke. Each segment of the film, though, is so hyperactively shot and edited, his relationships between all these characters are never given enough time to breathe. When the more dramatic moments strike, they fall flat, as Cherry rarely allows them a moment’s consideration before he moves onto the next thing, whether signing up for the army of deciding to rob a bank.
Cherry’s visual flair is sure to attract attention for positive and negative reasons. The hyperactive style of it all compliments Cherry himself as he is constantly moving from one thing to another, so the Russo Brothers use the entire bag of tricks at their disposal. One-shots, different colour palettes, aspect ratio shifts, fourth wall breaks; Cherry runs the cinematic gamut. Some moments work better than others, particularly during the war sequences. Harkening back to Saving Private Ryan, a mad dash through a flurry of explosives as Cherry and Jimenez try to rescue a wounded soldier from the front lines was mightily impressive to look at, while the bromance developed between the two is one of the better developed relationships of the whole film, culminating in a moment of genuine shock towards the end of Part 3. Such moments are effective in total isolation, but when the film tries so much throughout, the flair loses its initial impact and crosses the line into tedium. How many different visual representations of being high on drugs one film needs is anyone’s guess, but Cherry tries all of them.
Cherry is carried entirely by Tom Holland, it is the titular role after all, but the screenplay continues to let Holland’s performance down throughout. Any moments of impressive work from Holland (a devastating phone call, the genuine fear during his heists, and his ever-reliable love-struck charm) are undercut by poorly constructed set-pieces in a bid to create tension. In his post-Iraq War PTSD opioid addiction phase (again, the lack of focus on one problem Cherry should tackle at a time is a constant weight on the film’s shoulders), Cherry becomes a genuinely unsympathetic character. He finds himself in predicaments through errors of his own making, and then making bad choices in a bid to rectify them. It becomes almost intolerable towards the film’s final act as Cherry and his now entirely heroin-addicted girlfriend push the boundaries of what constitutes a toxic relationship and what constitutes genuine abuse. Any statement Cherry aspires to make about the opioid drug addiction is rendered entirely meaningless by the constant, accidental successes Cherry has as a result. Even the incident that leads to his bank robbery experiences causes very little genuine harm to Cherry’s personal life, and no more of an issue to deal with than his ongoing heroin addiction.
Despite the cavalcade of issues Cherry has, it would be remiss of me to say that it is completely without merit. There are quality moments in here, from the well-developed relationships to flashy but nonetheless impressive camerawork to some genuinely funny moments (Jack Reynor small role steals the show in this regard), its biggest problem is it tries to do so much that its best moments are drowned in everything else that surround them. There are unnecessary moments of because we can filmmaking, such as a shot from the perspective of Tom Holland’s arsehole, and yet more questionable writing with the bizarre suggestion that being embarrassed in the army was the reason war was hell and not, say, the devastating loss of life.
Cherry is quite an experience. The creativity behind the camera comes across as self-indulgent to a fault, right up to its depiction of Cherry’s lowest moment, collapsed on the side of the road, with operatic music belting out overtop. It’s the kind of film that smacks of a pair of directors wanting to step out of the shadow of their previous, world-record setting superhero venture and create the antithesis to that with this rectum showing, vomit and shit covered, nightmarish descent into absolute madness. Cherry is a chaotic, momentarily good, frequently bizarre endeavour that asks a lot of Tom Holland, who is up for the challenge, but the film frequently lets him down.
Cherry will be available on Apple TV from March 12 2021.