Directed By: Jeffrey Fine
Starring: Kyle Gallner, Laura Allen, Brittany Robertson, Esai Morales, D.C. Pierson, Matt Walsh, Zosia Mamet
When you’re doused in big budget, effect-heavy features week after week, it winds up being the simplest productions that really blow you away. Writer-director Jeffrey Fine’s newest film, Cherry, is just about as minimalistic as they come, but the results are huge. Cherry achieves a degree of empathy, entertainment and pleasure that most grander scale films never even come close to earning.
Aaron (Kyle Gallner) always plays by his parents’ rules. From the day he was born, they bred him to become an Ivy League student and the time has finally come for Aaron to pack his things, move into his dorm and begin his freshman year at a prestigious school. He’s there specifically for a top tier engineering program, but is also a talented artist, a skill his parent don’t condone pursuing. He opts to take a drawing class as an elective anyway and that’s where he meets Linda (Laura Allen), a much older student who takes a liking to him. A coffee date leads to a dinner date and that’s when Aaron is sure it’s finally going to be his lucky night. The problem is, not only does he discover Linda has a 14-year-old daughter, Beth (Brittany Robertson), but a cop boyfriend, too.
All hope isn’t lost. Sexual tension still exists between Aaron and Linda, but now there’s some between Aaron and Beth as well. Well, most of that tension comes straight from Beth who’s far beyond her years and has no problem telling everyone exactly what she thinks. Even while being pulled in both directions, Aaron nestles into the family quite nicely, so much so his peers take notice of his absence, he isn’t performing well in class and worst of all, his mother demands to know what’s going on.
Cherry kicks off as the quintessential college film. Aaron is the typical incoming clueless freshman who’s at the bottom of the barrel in the sex department. Naturally, his roommate has a name like Wild Bill (D.C. Pierson) and is the ladies’ man of the floor forcing Aaron to spend night after night in the hallway while he does his business. This portion of the film may be drenched in clichés, but Aaron is likable enough and he manages to keep the piece afloat.
Gallner really carries the entire film with ease. Not only does he have a fully fleshed out and interesting character to work with, he’s an absolute natural in the role. This is quite impressive considering Aaron goes from the school loser, being tormented at a party to a ladies’ man, torn between a beautiful older woman and her young, but perhaps not too young, daughter. Just as Linda is drawn to Aaron by his innocence and big heart, so is the audience and that’s the element Gallner keeps consistent and highlights throughout the story.
But that’s not to say Allen and Robertson don’t have their moments, too. When Gallner isn’t rightfully claiming the spotlight, both women hold up quite well. Allen takes her character through a shocking transition, going from happy-go-lucky college student to someone with some intense emotional issues. Rather than take the transition to an extreme, Allen keeps Linda in check just enough so you can still sympathize with her, even in her darker moments. As for Robertson, she puts on a fine performance, but her character could use some additional development. It’s quite obvious she’s a teenager with an attitude, but her relationship with Linda could use more screen time. Aaron is constantly between the two and even when their life together is brought to the forefront, it’s merely discussed, not shown.
That’s really all there is to Cherry – the story and the performances – and that’s all there should be. Fine keeps everything basic from beginning to end, presenting each element in a minimalistic fashion. The performances are natural, there’s no fancy camerawork, the music is subdued, but bold enough to enhance the mood and the story itself rather simple. It’s smart, funny, touching and overall a fantastically entertaining film.
By Perri Nemiroff