‘About Cherry’ is Little More Than a Pretty Face
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.
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.
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.