Returning to my indie movie quest, I stumbled upon a film that grabbed me by the heart called Cherry. I am quite fond of the coming-of-age story, and I have a soft spot for tales set on a college campus, most likely in part due to the fact that I never had that real college experience. There is something in those dorm and campus dramas that feed into my “wish I had” longings. I do not have a lot of things in my life that I truly regret, or would care to have a do-over for, but going away to college is one. But, since that kind of going back and changing is not possible, at least not until time travel is perfected, I will look to the college coming-of-age story to tide me over.
At the start of the film we are introduced to Aaron, who at seventeen explains that he is from a long line of engineers. He tells us this from the backseat of a car on his way to an ivy league education. In the front seat are Aaron’s parents, two of these engineers. His Mother is domineering, seemingly the controlling force in Aaron’s life. She has plotted out his life, thus far, even down to selecting all of his classes. His Father is initially seen as weak and ineffective, his only contribution, besides driving the “on its last legs” car, is to hand off a folded up paper to his son implying it contains the secret to a successful life, and the key to not making the same mistakes he has made. Later, in Aaron’s dorm room, opened by flashlight, it is revealed to be a drawing of female genitalia, with special instructions to locating the clitoris, with the note stating he may have not lost Aaron’s Mother if he had known this. Aaron crumples up the hand-drawn manual in embarassment, and with these two details we get a sense of where Aaron has come from.
We learn in the first few minutes that despite his promise to be the next engineer (he has earned himself early admission and a full scholarship on this merit), Aaron has other interests, most notably art. We catch a glimpse of his sketch book and see that this is more than just a passing interest, Aaron is a talented artist.
Aaron is predictably shy and inexperienced, younger than those around him, he shares his dorm room with the stereotypical more experienced, slightly douche bag, roommate who immediately asks on his virginity status, lays down the doorknob rule to signify “do not enter” and hazes him almost immediately with a faux contest of who has the biggest penis. Aaron stumbles through, bumping into a girl on his floor who flirts with him to no avail, then he literally trips into a life drawing class, presumably by mistake, and stays.
It is in said class that Aaron meets Diane. Diane is older, a returning to college student in her thirties, bold, outspoken, beautiful. She latches on to Aaron pretty fast, but not in an attraction sort of way. No, Diane’s interest in Aaron feels more like the way someone takes in a stray puppy. She seems to want to Mother him, albeit in a different way than his own Mother, pushing him to be bold himself, and inviting him to a home cooked dinner at her place. Aaron is quite obviously attracted to her, and not in a Mother/Son kind of way, and obliges to her invitation. It is at Diane’s dinner that we meet her 14 year-old daughter Beth, played by the talented Britt Robertson who I adored on the short-lived TV show Life Unexpected, and who was the only real saving grace to the even shorter-lived TV show The Secret Circle. Beth falls for Aaron as Aaron falls for Diane as Diana unravels revealing her flaws, and thus is the real conflict to this tale. This somewhat odd love triangle set against Aaron’s struggle to grow up and become his own person, to follow his own path.
Beth is my favorite in this film, and her scenes with Aaron are the most moving and poignant to me. I never do quite understand the constant taboo placed on the potential relationship that she tries to pursue with Aaron, as they are really not that far apart in age and, to me, they are the couple with the impossible to deny chemistry. But, this is not how the story is presented.
The film is at its strongest when Aaron is at Diane and Beth’s house, especially the moments shared between Aaron and Beth. The scenes on campus and at the dorm seem too stereotypically contrived, all the outlying characters too shallowly sketched, they lack the depth to stand on their own, and are for the most part throwaway.
There are predictable moments in the story, and no real surprises in where it takes the viewer, but the journey itself and the characters are moving. There is one scene towards the end that had me in tears, and again reminded me of what a talent Britt Robertson is (please give her another TV show, or more films, please). On the soundtrack front this one is rather forgettable, one I wish had been stronger in certain places, and moments, especially. All in all the film is a moving story of growing up, becoming your own person, and realizing that everyone is flawed and that most times the grass is not greener on the other side.