Cherry seems an obvious pseudonym for a virginal girl entering the world of porn, what with all the opportunities for jokes about 'popping your cherry', such as the one the porn director Margaret (Heather Graham) makes while filming main character Cherry aka Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) for the first time. Just as the pseudonym can be put to clever use or it can become predictable and lose its impact or amusement, "About Cherry," author Stephen Elliot's debut film, has its clever and fresh moments but fails to fulfill its promise of a wild ride.
Fans of Stephen Elliot, James Franco (or other members of the fine cast), or kink.com, the seminal SF porn company that the film's porn house is based, may feel a bit like one feels after a hot date that doesn't deliver- not disgust but disappointment despite some glimmering moments. He was relatively witty and had some commendable ideas in conversation; but he was disappointingly tame in bed, and there didn't seem to be enough substance for long term potential.
The film follows bubbly bombshell Angelina as she busts loose from her broken home and makes to San Francisco with her bff, Andrew (Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame), who seems to simply follow her out of affection and concern. There seems to be no hesitation on his part, and there’s no mention of what he is sacrificing by accompanying the girl he secretly (though it’s rather obvious to the audience) longs for. When they move in with a gregarious gay guy, there is a suggestion that Andrew may find himself as a gay man, liberated from his doomed lust for Angelina; but this proves to be a tease of a storyline.
With her miserable conditions and desire for a new life, one might think they are escaping middle America, but actually they are just driving north from LA, where Angelina has just lost her first bit of innocence at the hands of a scuzzy lover who suggested she pose nude for photos.
But, as Californians know, SF is a completely different world from LA. Sure, Angelina could have easily become a porn princess in the dirty, sprawling SoCal metropolis if she had wanted to, but she likely wouldn’t have found such a badass environment like the one in SF that piqued her curiosity and made her feel safe. The good girl spiraled out of control in a milieu of hedonism or nihilism can be compelling and loads of fun, but there are a few problems along the way here.
While most of the acting is solid- James Franco is endearing as the boyish suitor with a coke problem and a gave-up-on-being an-artist problem, and Lili Taylor is solid as an alcoholic mother- Hinshaw just doesn’t give the protagonist the dimension she needs. She excels at the childlike eagerness that is key to her character, but her portrayals of trepidation and despair don’t always ring true. The blame can’t be all hers. The dialogue is often flat, and the script doesn’t provide enough moving, intimate moments to make us feel as though we know the characters.
Perhaps the primary letdown of the film, which despite all this manages to entertain, is that is seems to be holding back. What could be a raw, gasp-inducing drama of love, friendship, and debauchery in the Bay is more of a traditional indie drama with a twist of titillation. The characters and the premise are alluring, but their trajectory is cut short. Also, Angelina’s motivations are muddled, and her relationships are embattled in a superficial way without any sort of resolve.
There are some brilliant moments here that deserve to be part of more brilliance, instead of being unexpected jolts along a safe journey. For example, when the resentment festering between long term lesbian couple Margaret and real estate agent, Jillian (Diane Farr) comes to a head after Margaret reveals to her partner’s colleague that she is a porn director, their spite evolves into sadomasochistic sex. Also, Angelina catching Andrew masturbating to one of her girl-on-girl porn videos incites a heated moment of truth between them, leading to his fair-minded accusation that he is the only one not allowed to see her naked and that she treats him like a pet.
The film would have done well to explore further the dynamic between Angelina and Andrew, including her selfish use of him as a crutch. He fills the role that a gay best friend might- inadvertent consolation from the world of callous hetero men. The problem here , of course, is that he is in fact a hetero himself with a libido and with feelings. However, as encapsulated in the insanely abrupt leap forward in time at the end and the end itself (which is so unresolved that you’ll be staring in dismay as the credits roll), the engaging conflicts that are set up are not given their due course.