Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical debut novel ‘Cherry’ about the Iraq veteran, former opioid addict, and ex-bank robber sounds like an over-stuffed heap of post-9/11 issues rammed into one time-hopping story… if it wasn’t semi-autobiographical. Told in the first person and pulling from the styles of many cult writers of the late 90s/early 00s, the novel recounts Walker’s experiences meeting the love of his life in college, serving in Iraq, returning with PTSD, becoming addicted to heroin and OxyContin and eventually resorting to non-violent bank robberies to sustain his habit.
Anthony and Joe Russo bought the rights to Walker’s book not long after its publishing in 2018, seemingly choosing to direct this story as their Oscar-bait breakout film after being Marvel’s prized possessions for the last few years. Obviously trying to keep it in the Marvel family, they (mis)cast Spider-Man himself Tom Holland in the role of the unnamed protagonist, deciding to structure the film in “parts” that each embody a different cinematic genre.
Holland’s character meets his love Emily (Ciara Bravo) at university in the first segment, which is structured as a romance film with fourth-wall break narration popularised in mid-2010s Oscar-bait films like Wolf of Wall Street. Emily is a thin white girl with big brown eyes who looks about 15, and that’s all we learn. The Russo’s opt for soft-focus through much of these scenes because — we get it — Emily is the only thing he sees (talk about subtle). He muses with all the teenage melodrama of a John Green novel combined with the plastic bag scene from American Beauty about how painful it is to harbour so many emotions and how the beauty he sees in the world is tearing him apart. Walker’s novel is generally no better, it is a mistake that so much of the dialogue style has gone unchanged for the film’s screenplay, and retains cringe levels beyond the point of human comprehension.
When Emily decides to rashly break up with him, he does the only sensible thing he can: joins the army. This entire film can be read as an allegory for all the rash decisions men make when women leave their tired, wasteful selves. Thankfully, the army sections are where the Russo’s film does manage to find its feet, with a Full Metal Jacket homage during basic training that closes in the aspect ratio and adds a layer of sickly grime reminiscent of early 00s drug films such as Spun. And yes, the irony is not at all lost that the most interesting part of Cherry‘s 141-minute runtime is a direct rip-off from a cinematic masterpiece.
Once discarded from the military, many (largely) men were dealing with PTSD, turning to drugs to numb the pain, lots facing homelessness and lives of petty crime. The ongoing opioid crisis in America is due to a cinematic treatment that handles it with the care it deserves. Unfortunately, Cherry isn’t that film. Holland and even Bravo get to showcase their serious acting chops as junkies in the latter part of the film but the treatment of the section as a crime/bank heist thriller lacks the emotional depth this subject matter needs. These young actors deserve better material. The Russo’s present us with an unlikeable protagonist, a hideously mishandled and underwritten love interest and a greater interest in flashy camera tricks and visual gags than the heart of Nico Walker’s story.
Cherry picks out the best and worst moments of one man’s life and interprets them through film genres and homages. However, as ambitious as the approach is, the film is lacking empathy and nuance. While the Russo’s are clearly adept at handling large amounts of content and characters to meld together a movie, the creative decisions here are simultaneously lazy cop-outs and cocky in attitude. Somehow Cherry ends up being a mish-mashed “pick me” show-reel for the Russo’s, consisting of derivative visuals and narrative methods that scream to Hollywood ‘PLEASE EMPLOY US! WE CAN DO ANYTHING!’ Ironically, a film intended to be a post-Endgame breakout for Anthony and Joe Russo ends up succumbing to all the property-referencing tricks and gags I’m sure they were hoping to set themselves apart from after years in the clutches of Marvel and The Mouse.
Cherry is available in select cinemas now. It will be available to stream exclusively on AppleTV+ from March 12th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She works as a teacher in the GLAM sector and freelances as a costume designer and maker living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Green Room and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Letterboxd here.