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‘About Cherry’ is Little More Than a Pretty Face

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Stephen Elliott’s “About Cherry” takes what could have been an interesting journey into the porn industry and turns it into what is essentially a TV-Movie-of-the-Week without the rating restrictions of the Lifetime Channel. Newcomer Ashley Hinshaw makes an impression and the supporting cast of Elliott’s drama is strong but the film never finds its focus, refusing to get under the beautiful surface of its lead character and present her as anything more than a sexy plot device.

Every day, there are young women getting drawn into a world in which their physical appearance and what they’re willing to do with their bodies ends up making them a lot of money. We’ve seen countless stories of the allure of the seedy side of entertainment in Hollywood and, ultimately, “About Cherry”’s biggest flaw is how it plays into so many clichés of its subgenre. There’s the ingénue (Hinshaw), her alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor), the friend (Dev Patel) who wants her but can’t express his love for her, the high-powered boyfriend (James Franco) who thinks he can handle her increasingly sexual career but cannot, and the porn producer (Heather Graham) who sees a future star and maybe something more in our beautiful actress. We’ve seen all of these characters before in better films and so none of them resonate beyond their brief description.

About Cherry
About Cherry
Photo credit: IFC Films

As the clichéd supporters circle around her, Hinshaw actually carves out a reasonably interesting protagonist (the young star’s performance is easily the best thing about the movie) as Angelina. She’s an 18-year-old who moves to San Francisco with her friend Andrew (Patel) and, of course, gets a job at a strip club as a waitress. Before you know it, she’s been talked into shooting films with a famous porn-star-turned-director named Margaret (Graham) and starts dating a power player named Frances (Franco).

I will admit that “About Cherry” doesn’t really go where one might expect it to go. It’s not a scathing portrait of the porn industry or a “descent into darkness” tale like you might think but that leaves it a little untethered with a lack of focus for most of its running time. Angelina kind of just wanders from sign post to sign post in the porn industry – dirty photos, strippers, girl-on-girl action, and, finally, of course, the hardcore stuff. And she does so in such an unbelievable manner. I never bought the innocence angle of this character, one who responds to a question of if she’s had sex with a girl with “You move really fast” in an interview to be in the adult industry. I didn’t buy the wide-eyed ingénue aspect of “About Cherry” and so I never cared about Angelina’s story. So much of “About Cherry” is meant to titillate and dramatize but never humanize.

About Cherry
About Cherry
Photo credit: IFC Films

The film really goes off the rails about halfway through when it switches protagonists. For its entire running time up to this point, we’ve never left Angelina’s side and the story needs to be solely hers. But Elliott makes the tragic error of thinking that we’d suddenly care about Margaret and her declining relationship with her girlfriend. Margaret is an important one and serves as an interesting possible vision of Angelina’s future but the scenes of domestic turmoil between Graham and Diane Farr are simply horrendous.

What’s left at the end of “About Cherry”? The lack of moralizing is nice but it leaves a film without much reason to care. A girl got involved in porn. End of story. The supporting characters aren’t interesting enough for us to be interested in how they respond to Angelina’s arc and the central character, despite Hinshaw’s best efforts, is a cipher, a pretty face without enough personality or believability behind to register more than any of the other pretty faces trying to make it in a cruel industry.

“About Cherry” stars Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham, Lili Taylor, and Diane Farr. It was directed by Stephen Elliott and opens in Chicago on October 5, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

frank farefield's picture

film

Had potential but it ended up very disappointing, self contradicting and promoting immoral activities (I’m actually not talking about the porn but the actions of all characters bar the gay friend and Andrew, and the supposedly horrible alcoholic mother came across nicer than the totally unsympathetic protagonist).

I wanted to see Andrew and the girl hook up (or if not at least one kiss scene and then a plausible explanation in a humane way to him why it wont work), maybe with him partially accepting her work bar the boy-girl scenes. A great quote in the film that was contradictory to the general message the film tried to promote was “Love me? But not enough to jerk off to some one else” which I suspect was put in by a stupid director/writer without understanding said irony of the line relative to the film, here’s a girl selling herself allegedly as a service to “frustrated” men but when the one guy who probably had every right to be sexually frustrated does the same as all the other faceless men the girl goes mad. Now in a way the statement has some sense, sense in a sexually self aware and moral post liberalism post puritanism future utopia because it takes a brave liberal to admit that in fact lusting after people is wrong because it dehumanizes them and turns them into objects, it takes a brave conservative to admit that sometimes this is forgiveable/even allowable given the particular methodology utilized, such as imagination vs penetrative pornography vs erotica (non penetrative). However given we do not live in such a society and also given the fact the film promotes a version of society where people are never to be judged for their actions, where glorification of ones own body for the enjoyment of themselves and others is the de-facto gold standard (a rather simplistic and dystopian world view in my view) then as many other reviews have pointed out its a bit rich for a protagonist with such a mindset to get offended that her work is bringing “enjoyment” to others when they happen to be a bit close to home. It’s also weird she follows the remark up with “How could I share the same bed with you now” which discounts the fact he had these intense feelings for her but has never acted on them and has bar this one minor slip up been the perfect gentleman for her.

Through out the film there seems to be victim blaming and hypocrisy going on such that drug addiction and alcoholism in those that are close to Angelina is supposed to make us sympathetic to the victim whilst she is guilty of her own addiction, sex addiction yet she acts holier-than-thou when what she ends up doing is akin to prostitution. She runs away from her mother because she is an alcoholic, leaving her younger 12 year old sister Jo-Jo to fend for her self this is just the first of many selfish actions committed by an initially sympathetic protagonist that make us grow to loathe Angelina.

Then there is her disconnection with her friend Andrew who was very loyal to her, at one point he tells her that boy girl sex is not the same as the play acting girl girl scenes, but she ignores him, Andrew unlike the other characters continues to put up with her profession in a true love sort of “I might not like like what your doing but I will always be there for you” sort of way, and when her coke addict boy friend tells her that what she now does is disgusting (penetrative sex for money) and she comes home to find Andrew giving in to his desires and jealousy by watching her video (hardly the grime of the century considering the level to which Angelina is now involved) takes her madness at her boyfriends comments and coke addiction out on Andrew by getting all morally indignant about her friend enjoying her work, under more calmer seas you cant help but feel she would be flattered that he finds her attractive but her emotions are all mixed up and angry at this point and so she lashes out. Andrew apologizes for saying she treats him like a pet, despite the fact that is true, the sight of someone apologizing who has done nothing much wrong is another thing that leaves a bad/annoying taste in the mouth. She runs of to her lesbian producer and ends up kissing her and falling for her. At the end she becomes a producer and is exploiting young girls whom like herself are just beginning to go down the rabbit hole. A side plot of the film is the lesbian producers girlfriend wanting her girlfriend to give up her job, she can see the exploitation of people inherent in the industry and also, not unrealistically expects monogamy in her relationship not a mass hedonistic orgy her partner seems drawn to. Again some how the film tries to make out the selfish one in this relationship is the partner of the producer not the producer her self for failing to stick by her girlfriend.

The most annoying parts of the film are the contradiction between its message and how the protagonist is put on a holier than thou pedestal where she never faces real criticism, or never reflects on her own selfish actions such as abandoning her mum and especially her sister, of treating Andrew like a pet and also the contradiction between its message and the line “Love me? Not enough to Jerk Off to someone else” which both contradicts itself (if you loved someone would you not occasionally fantasize about them?) and the largely amoral message the film puts across that sex is just pleasure and that naked bodies mean nothing and that people should not be judged for enjoying loveless sex, yet here she is becoming all Victorian and castigating her friend for a pretty minor sexual offence. However of all the things in the film that are annoying the one that takes the biscuit is her kicking her friend Andrew out when he has basically stood by her through out all her time in the industry, unlike her boyfriend, even when she was doing penetrative sex against his recommendations. So the one character that lives up to the silly motto of “You should never Judge people for being themselves ” (does that include practising paedophiles, jehadists and rapists? Thought not) is just being himself, and he judged by her as a bad person when she is far from whiter than white, when he has been selfless and her actions largely selfish? That right there is what makes this film so pathetic and just hypocritical beyond belief.

Finally another weird element of the film was the whole apartment situation,her gay friend owned an apartment but hardly ever lived there? He was supposedly friends with Andrew but we hardly ever see them together, also we hardly ever see Andrew, the gay friend and Angelina in a room together sometimes its even possible to wonder if the gay friend as a character even actually exists and isn’t some sort of fantasy Angelina is projecting on Andrew.

I really think the film was just unrealistic, given how much the girl enjoyed sex I think a more plausible reaction would be her having sex with Andrew when she found out he was viewing her films, sort of as a compassion vote and a faux moment of redemption for the protagonist so that he at least isn’t wondering what all the fuss about Angelina is about and isn’t left feeling the only one who has not got to have physical contact with her,she would not need to be attracted to him for her to do so as she was not attracted to the men in her pornography films just the idea of sex she was attracted to, so the idea of sex would attract her to have sex with Andrew when she discovered him watching this film. But of course being an addict she would end up using Andrew for physical thrills and would like she does in her films stop kissing him and just become more pornographic in her sex with him, he eventually would realize he is not getting love or an emotional connection from her and is just being used as a prop like in her films by this stage she would have still have reached camera man and he would have been willing to accept her doing that job, but cannot except being used as prop for physical gratification from Angelina as he wants love not just sex so would leave her, not out of selfishness but ultimately out of love for Angelina, because he was not going to feed her physical addiction. Let some one else service it would be his motto because I’m sure as hell not going to be the one being exploited by and exploiting her back.

The film is supposed to be a pro pornography propaganda film but for all the glaring holes outlined above, and many more besides only the most dimwitted of teens or 20 some-things, or the most ideological of people watching this film would come out the move more for or with the same views on pornography if they where initially sympathetic to it. Any one else who was initially pro pornography would re-examine the extent to which they supported it, given the unintentional mixed messages the film promotes and the blatant selfishness the protagonist had and her constant hypocrisy.

Finally many film critics have suggested unlike other films it doesn’t have the lead going down an overblown rabbit hole where she becomes a drug addict, substance abuser, self harmer and domestic abuser of her friends and lovers, no she might not do those things, but this film by stripping back those things still manages to unintentionally show a rabbit hole, that from my perspective is all the more powerful for it. Sticking to how her job affects relationships, in all of them her job gets in the way of her and also of the lesbian producers relationships and eventually destroys them. It paints a picture that only selfish, narcissistic, hypocritical and above all else lonely people who are willing to give up all family and relationship ties in order to make some money and “enjoy” sex can be part of such an industry. With the people involved in such an industry being hypocritical types not even willing to date people like Andrew who merely disapprove of their work intensely but will still stick by those they love.

The film tries to blame those said same ties for not being open minded enough, but what it wants from them is absolute acceptance not just tolerance, which in itself is another hypocrisy of the film, and in doing so it is absolutely unconvincing to almost everyone because the one person who lives up to the non judgemental model is kicked away by the protagonist because he allegedly did something bad. The protagonist never stops making judgements about her family and relationships such as coke addict boyfriend and alcoholic mum yet expects no judgements in return for her profession and she even judges her sister for wanting to leaver her mum like she did and not finish high school.

The protagonist rarely if ever recognizes her own faults and further even when she does she never reflects on any thing to say she did something wrong, she never apologizes and always expects a different standard of morality from others than that which she exhibits her self, namely she is a very judgemental character, heck if you can kick the one guy out who tolerated her profession for a minor crime of enjoying her material, well she could do anything. A pro pornography film which to me ends up backfiring on the producers.

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