The initial goal of ‘About Cherry’ is one that’s certainly intriguing. The drama sets out to chronicle the story of small town girl and her introduction into the world of pornography while never demonizing it. Cowriter/director Stephen Elliot has the right idea here, but far too often he winds up just showing us things we’ve already seen before in other movies, and done better to boot. Yes, there’s no judgement for the main character, but everything about this movie is just a bit too passive to fully work. The acting is good all around, but this character study just doesn’t give us characters worth studying. Too often it feels like the screenplay is directing them instead of it feeling like their actions and decisions were organic to the story. Individual moments work, but the package on the whole is missing some important pieces. For initially trying something different and for getting some nice performances from his cast, I tip my hat to Elliot, but I just wish he had made an overall better film. The movie comes out in almost exactly a month, and while I don’t want to completely discourage you from seeing it with this Early Review, I do want you to check your expectations. Don’t go looking for a great flick here, because you won’t be getting it.
In terms of plot, we’re basically just following along as a previously innocent yet troubled girl enters the world of pornography and how that decision affects her life. Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) is a nice enough young lady, working at the laundromat but she longs to move away from her small California town and do something with her life. Her mother Phyllis (Lili Taylor) is a drunk and her stepfather is abusive to her and her young sister. When her high school boyfriend (Jonny Weston) only half jokingly suggests she take some naked pictures for extra money, she initially gets mad at him, but really only one scene later is at the studio with her top off. The pictures are a hit and quickly she gets the idea to head to San Francisco with the idea of taking things one step further. Along for the ride is her best friend Andrew (Dev Patel), who’s clearly in love with her. Soon enough she’s working at a strip club, where she meets and begins dating the charming lawyer Francis (James Franco), all the while dipping her toes into the world of porn. She changes her name to Cherry, starting out only with girl on girl and solo scenes under the direction of Margaret (Heather Graham). Soon though, the idea of working with a male partner for more money intrigues her, and that’s where many of the people in her life show their true colors. I was interested in the almost pro-porn stance that the film takes, but I wish it didn’t fall into the generalities that it winds up succumbing to.
There’s some good acting here, but all of the roles are a bit thin for the actors essaying the parts. Ashley Hinshaw is actually the strongest link, since she’s mostly there to look good and innocent while giving off a sexy vibe, so anything else is kind of a bonus. She does that easily, and her performance is far from bland, though she doesn’t get at the character in any deep way. That’s more the screenplay’s fault then hers, as she could be a name to watch. James Franco is playing his character more or less perpetually stoned (which doesn’t completely fit in with his character initially), but it’s an odd choice that gives the role some welcome quirk. Dev Patel isn’t given much to do, but he tries to make the most of it. It’s almost as if the script forgot he was there and just throws him back into things at times. Lili Taylor only has a few scenes, but she shines as Hinshaw’s alcoholic mother. For me though, the best performance belongs to Heather Graham, who almost uses this as an alternate take on where Rollergirl from ‘Boogie Nights’ might be today. She’s easily the most memorable character, even if the writing lets her down too with the subplot about her lesbian relationship with a high class business executive (Diane Farr). The rest of the cast includes the aforementioned Jonny Weston and what looks like several porn stars, but for me it’s all about Graham here.
Stephen Elliot is solid enough behind the camera, but his direction is pretty bland, so there aren’t any real flourishes to distract from the mediocre narrative at hand. The screenplay is partly to blame for that, though it does at least set out to try and be different and does actually contain some interesting behind the scenes looks at the current porn industry. The aforementioned nonjudgmental tone it takes toward porn and its “behind the curtain” approach is likely at least somewhat related to the fact that Elliot co-wrote the film with adult film actress Lorelei Lee. I appreciate that they never made Angelina/Cherry a lost soul or anything like that, but her decisions (like the rest of the cast) never feel natural. Pretty much everyone except their main character falls to their fatal flaw/addiction/base desires, so you’re left with no one except her, and honestly she’s the least interesting character in the film. That was a real issue with me, along with just a lack of originality when all is said and done.
When ‘About Cherry’ comes out in theaters this September, you’ll have the choice about whether or not to see a flawed film with a strong lead performance that tries to admirably do something different. I didn’t want another “porn is bad” movie about corrupted youth, and I didn’t get it, but I also got a far too bland character study that doesn’t particularly give us any characters worth studying. There are individually good scenes, but often the sum total is less than it should be. It’ll be up to you to decide if this is worth your time or not, but I’m inclined to say that you’ll have to go in knowing what to expect if you don’t want to be let down. I didn’t dislike ‘About Cherry’, but in almost all regards I wish that it was a bit better than it wound up being. Take that for what it’s worth and decide for yourself…
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!