American Cherry unfolds like a bold and hazy dream. There are moments of such quiet beauty in every corner of the film – patient shots of dust swirling in a sunbeam, a butterfly crawling across a screen door. The dusty, nondescript town at the center of the film manages to feel familiar and alien all at once.
The plot and narrative are an awkward fit for such an intriguing setting. Troubled young Finn (Hart Denton, toned down from his manic turn on Riverdale) drifts through the town. He’s obviously troubled. His relationship with his parents is strained, and we can tell there’s anger (or worse) bubbling under his quiet exterior. He connects with Eliza, a girl at his school. Eliza is troubled too, in her own quieter way: she lives with her alcoholic mother, the two of them living through a trial separation from her step-father and step-sister. As Finn and Eliza deepen their bond, it quickly becomes clear that he will bring great love or great danger into her life (perhaps both.)
I was impressed with both young leads. Denton appears in nearly every scene of the film and provides its narration. If the audience doesn’t connect with him, American Cherry has no chance. He is up to the task. Sarah May Sommers is particularly affecting as Eliza – I especially admired scenes where she has to navigate between her budding happiness with Finn and the thoughts and expectations of her high-school friends.
I found much to love about American Cherry, but left confused surrounding its tone and intention. From a genre perspective, it somehow sits right at the intersection of romance and psychological thriller, but that ambiguity was confusing in ways that felt unintentional. Is this trying to be Fear for the zoomer generation? Good Will Hunting with more bite? I felt it needed to commit a little bit more firmly. By seeking such balance, it risks underdelivering on both counts.
I found the script somewhat overwrought as well – the heavy-handedness of the dialogue is difficult to reconcile with the casual nuance of the cinematography. It is hard to watch young actors deliver lines like “there’s an umbilical cord connecting my belly with this town” with stone-faced seriousness.
All this being said, the visual power of the film is difficult to resist and does the heavy lifting of transporting the audience when the script can’t quite deliver. This is a confusing picture, but undeniably beautiful.
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