Title: About Cherry
Director: Stephen Elliott
Starring: Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, Lili Taylor, Dev Patel, Heather Graham, Diane Farr, Jonny Weston
A fairly strong performance from newcomer Ashley Hinshaw can’t save “About Cherry,” director Stephen Elliott’s coming-of-age drama about a girl who escapes a broken family life by slowly shuffling into the adult industry. Rather shockingly lacking in dynamic plotting given its subject matter, the film descends into mystifying incomprehensibility in its final couple reels, showing a surprising shortage of understanding of its characters, and basic human motivations.
Eighteen-year-old Angelina (Hinshaw) is worn down by serving as the surrogate mother to her younger sister, given that her own mother (Lili Taylor) is an unreliable alcoholic. After her boyfriend Bobby (Jonny Weston) convinces her to take some nude photographs, Angelina takes the money and moves up the California coast to San Francisco with her resentfully platonic best friend, Andrew (Dev Patel). They settle into an apartment with a third roommate. In short order, Angelina then gets a job working as a cocktail waitress at a strip club; lands a slick lawyer boyfriend, Frances (James Franco); starts shooting some girl-girl adult stuff under the moniker Cherry; and then ponders the more lucrative pay that would come with boy-girl work. At the same time, porn director Margaret (Heather Graham) starts developing a crush on Cherry, to the detriment of her relationship with her own girlfriend (Diane Farr).
The script, by Elliott and fellow former adult industry worker Lorelei Lee, is thin in its sketching of motivations, but has a certain breezy authenticity in the matter-of-fact way it addresses the work of enrolling with an agency and shooting nude photographs or sex scenes. Other snippets of dialogue, too (“Wait, look: flowers,” says Frances, in the sort of rakish apology that only rich guys can get away with), occasionally showcase a nice ear for streamlined affect that otherwise awkwardly abuts platitudes.
Owing chiefly to its performances (Franco is a sly hoot, and Graham’s nonplussed quietness hints at an inner monologue otherwise only barely audible), ”About Cherry” stands poised almost always just on the precipice of a greater intrigue. It’s frustrating that Elliott and Lee seem unwilling (or unable) to better develop Angelina’s personality and motivations, but what’s ultimately most maddening is that “About Cherry” takes an utterly bewildering turn in its third act, coming completely unglued in a variety of ways that all ring false and hollow. There’s not much inherent narrative conflict in the movie to begin with, so it basically lives or dies as a character study of the impressionable Angelina as a bobbing cork in these heaving seas, and when the screenplay requires Frances to turn on her suddenly or her to react with anger and confusion over something like why Andrew might possibly want to be with her, or even have a normal compulsion to masturbate to her pornographic scenes, it becomes merely ridiculous. To accept the decisions and directions ”About Cherry” makes and takes is to embrace witlessness.
Hinshaw, who had a bit role in 20th Century Fox’s surprise hit “Chronicle,” has a real presence. There are small moments of connection between she and Patel, and even she and Graham, which are smart and sublime, indicating at least that Elliott has the facility to focus his actors. Unfortunately, Hinshaw and others are eventually required to do and say grossly stupid things in “About Cherry.” It’s then the movie totally comes apart, its loose hold unraveled.
Written by: Brent Simon