Cherry is a scattershot and overwritten substance abuse drama.
You have to wonder if Marvel tried to convince Tom Holland to pass on Cherry. Even if the Russo brothers are behind the camera, I’m not sure they wanted to see Spider-Man sweating, mumbling, vomiting, unable to take a decent s**t or satisfy his woman. All while displaying wild pendulum swings of euphoria to abusive discontent, while addicted and high on opioids. Yet, he did it anyway. The film being released on a smaller streaming platform lowers the bar he can clear easily while taking the pressure off the studio worried about protecting their investment (despite Apple TV’s shocking 40-million dollar investment to acquire the picture). Was it worth it? It’s a role unlike anything he has ever done. The final result though is a scattershot attempt to tackle themes of addiction on opioid use from the past decade.
Tom Holland plays Cherry, a young army medic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He enters college in Ohio and falls for a girl named Emily (A Teacher’s Ciara Bravo). Cherry is the perfect picture of disenfranchised youth from the Gen Z crowd. He graduates, doesn’t know what to do, gets hooked on opioids, and instead of taking a job at the bottom, begins to rob banks to support his addiction. The young veteran gets his girl hooked and recruits his friends to secure those unconventional bank withdrawals.
Cherry was an adaptation of Nico Walker’s book of the same name by Angela Russo-Otstot (V the series) and Jessica Goldberg (Away). The book is practically autobiographical, as Walker is still in prison for bank robbery and is open about his opioid addiction of being discharged from the military. The source material and script are not a saga, but what happens after the hero of a story gets home and tumbles repeatedly down the rabbit hole of addiction.
The people who think the story of robbing a bank to support this type of addiction is outlandish is sadly misinformed. A single pill can cost $100, compared to a quick $20 heroin fix. Opioids also hit you harder, faster, and the euphoria lasts longer. This story is all too common. Opioids had been overprescribed to military veterans for years, including for PTSD, and do not provide enough mental health services to deal with the issue. That’s a lethal combination that America doesn’t want to hear about.
The problem is not the script’s overwritten dialogue, which is an issue. It’s the fact that this is a melodramatic genre picture that doesn’t take a nuanced approach to the issue. That may not be a problem, but the film has higher aspirations because of its ridiculously long running time. Not to mention special attention it attempts to tie in an overarching plot of the toll addiction takes on yourself and the ones you love. The film also tries to give equal or even more treatment to its bank robbery story when it should have been used as a backdrop, and becomes almost random and haphazard.
The film’s dark humor is welcomed but sometimes misplaced. The saving grace is Holland and Bravo. This isn’t a weekly procedural of drug-addicted teens who end up getting a hug from their neglected father; the addiction is squeezed out from a loving embrace. They do a fine job in very unlikable roles and not looking attractive doing so, which is a brave thing for a younger actor. These are two very intense performances. To go along with Holland’s underrated The Devil All the Time, he is showing incredible range for such a young actor.
The film is beautifully shot and no matter the result, you have to respect the effort and ambition of the Russos here. It’s admirable to make a statement on the opioid crisis and our military heroes. The film could be very triggering for some who suffer from addiction. The film’s style is uninviting, even stomach-turning at points. Which is fine, so why try to put a Cherry on top, if you will, of the film’s ending?
If you are going to make a statement, make one. Don’t sugarcoat the issue and the steep climb it is to beat addiction.