This is Spider-Man like you have never seen him before. “Cherry,” a new drug drama based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker and now available on Apple TV +, features Tom Holland in his grittiest role to date.
The fresh-faced Holland is the unnamed title character, let’s call him Cherry for ease of explanation, an underachieving college freshman from an affluent family, head-over-heels for Emily (Ciara Bravo). Based on author Nico Walker, he’s a jittery collection of insecurities who finds a soul mate in Emily (Ciara Bravo), a young woman whose decision to move to Montreal to go to school sends him on a downward spiral. Impulsively, he quits school and joins the army.
Turns out Emily was bluffing, but it’s too late. They marry before he ships out, but he leaves the one good thing in his life behind for a tour of Iraq.
Woefully unprepared for the military, the death, despair and drugs take their toll and he returns to civilian life a hollow shell, riddled with PTSD. He finds comfort in drugs, and is soon swallowed up and spit out by Ohio’s opioid crisis. Financially drained and disenfranchised, he robs banks to support his heroin addiction, losing Emily and what was left of his self-respect.
It does not reveal a major plot point to let you know that “Cherry” was written while Walker was in jail, serving an eleven-year sentence. Negotiations for the film rights actually broke down when Walker, still behind bars, ran out of prison phone minutes. He’s out now, and is apparently using the money earned from the book to pay back some of the money he stole.
But back to the film.
Directed by the Russo brothers, the dynamic duo behind a good chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—”Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”—the movie is a departure for them. Like their other films it’s slick and stylish, but there’s a darkly humorous tone that’s been absent their best-known work. It’s the spoonful of sugar that makes the tragic events of the main character’s life palatable but make no mistake, this isn’t a comedy. While the Russos find the funny in some very bad situations, this is a bleak film. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve already seen everything that’s going to happen,” Holland’s character says, “and it’s a nightmare.”
It’s also a rather long film. At two-and-a-half hours it luxuriates in the ambitious set-up of the story, creating a vivid sense of the character’s search for purpose in a life that feels cut adrift. The early moments feel acutely observed, but as the movie gets grittier the visual flair overwhelms the story, engaging the eye but not the brain. Ideas of toxic masculinity, the destructive nature of opioids and he very nature of war are soon abandoned in favor of a more standard crime biopic approach.
Keeping us interested is Holland, who grounds the high-flying coming-of-age story with a career best performance that never loses sight of the film’s basic premise, that this is a young man, out of his depth in almost every way.
“Cherry” is ambitious and raw but the scope of the story is too wide to be truly effective.