About Cherry (United States, 2012)August 23, 2012
Hollywood loves adult entertainment, whether it's porn, stripping, or some combination of the two. The gold standard for movies of this sort remains Boogie Nights, and it seems unlikely this will change any time soon. The sad fact is that most porn/stripper movies are more like Showgirls and Striptease, wallowing in camp and sleaze. About Cherry can be given credit for trying to do something a little different. The problem is that it never escapes a low orbit. The T&A is still more compelling than the drama and one can be forgiven wishing this was either a full-on softcore feature or a more comprehensive peek behind the curtain of how porn is made in 2012.
Those elements are present. In fact, the behind-the-scenes stuff is fascinating and there's a strong sense of verisimilitude about it. (Not surprising considering that director Stephen Elliott's co-writer is ex-porn actress Lorelei Lee.) The most popular niche of porn today is the pseudo-amateur material that can be churned out in a few hours. It's no longer about selling tapes or DVDs, it's about "dropping it behind a pay wall." The shoots aren't as sexy as one might expect. Selling the fantasy can be hard, awkward work, such as when actors have to pause in mid-thrust so the camera can be repositioned. About Cherry gives us some of this, but it's too much in the background.
The foreground tells a somewhat tired story. Fresh-faced, liberal-minded Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) is fed up with living in a run-down hovel with her perpetually drunk mother, Phyllis (Lili Taylor), and her mom's creepy boyfriend, who watches her when she's sleeping at night. She poses for a nude photo shoot then uses the $300 to relocate, along with her best friend, Andrew (Dev Patel), to San Francisco. They share a bed but it's a hands-off, platonic relationship. Andrew, of course, would like it to be more, but Angelina is clueless about his feelings. She quickly finds work at a strip club and it's not long before she graduates to porn, for which she adopts the moniker of "Cherry." There, she catches the eye of one of the directors, Margaret (Heather Graham), and starts dating a high-roller lawyer, Francis (James Franco). As her porn career pushes her toward Margaret, it drives a wedge between her and Francis, as does his addiction to cocaine, a drug she tries once and rejects.
The sex scenes in About Cherry are filmed like softcore porn and are suitably erotic. For the most part, the nudity is supplied by lead actress Ashley Hinshaw, who has a great body and doesn't seem shy about showing it off. Most of the movie has a distinct "indie" feel. This is clearly not intended to be a mainstream offering. It's pitched for the art house crowd although its subject matter will not attract the more conservative core constituency that frequents such venues. That's probably why IFC decided to make it available on Video on Demand.
Angelina's porn trajectory - from cheesecake still photos to a solo masturbation shoot to girl/girl to girl/boy - is not atypical of a career in the industry. By the end, she's looking to move behind the camera, which is also fairly common, at least for those who want to stay in porn rather than moving to other things. Angelina is in it for the money. She probably appreciates the sex but she's not fanatical about it. This is a job; it allows her to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. We're spared the melodrama of the drug-fueled downward spiral we often see in mainstream depictions of the porn industry. Drugs are prevalent and easily obtained, but Angelina isn't interested, possibly because she has seen what addiction has done to her alcoholic mother.
Where About Cherry fails is in its depiction of interpersonal relationships. Nearly all of them are flat and uninspired. Angelina's two romances - with Francis and Margaret - are less than fully fleshed out. Francis feels like a stock character and any depth attributed to Margaret is because some time is spent detailing the collapse of a prior long-term liaison. The most poorly developed interaction of all belongs to the curious friendship of Angelina and Andrew which is contrived and unconvincing throughout. He's a heterosexual male sleeping in the same bed with a porn star, and she's creeped out when she learns he wants to see her naked? Huh?
In the acting department, Hinshaw is the best thing about About Cherry. A fresh face (although she had a sizeable role in Chronicle), she makes the character believable. Of the bigger name stars used to sell the film, Franco brings little and Dev Patel seems lost. Heather Graham, who had one of the most memorable roles in Boogie Nights, is credible and Lilli Taylor makes the most of a small amount of a screen time. Graham has the movie's hottest sex scene (with minimal, if any, nudity) while Taylor's most memorable moment has her sitting on a bathroom floor throwing up into a toilet.
Depending on whether you're a glass half-full or glass half-empty person, About Cherry can be seen either as an evenhanded tale of life in porn circa 2012 or yet another trite melodrama with some well-shot nudity to spice things up. It's actually both - never boring but never as engaging as it could or should be.
About Cherry (United States, 2012)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Screenplay: Lorelei Lee, Stephen Elliott
Cinematography: Darren Genet
Music: Jeff Russo