Film Review: About Cherry

Mediocre drama centered a young woman’s introduction to the porn industry.

Eighteen-year-old Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) is trapped in Long Beach, Calif., with an alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor), abusive dad (Stephen Wiig), and a jerk of a boyfriend (Jonny Weston), who coerces her into posing for nude photos. Knowing there’s gotta be something better out there, she takes her BFF Andrew (Dev Patel) and flees to San Francisco. There, life doesn’t get any less sleazy as she finds jobs as a waitress in a lap-dancing emporium and a porn-film company. Margaret (Heather Graham), a director there, induces her to make some movies, beginning with a solo shot, quickly followed by lesbian shenanigans and, finally, that last frontier, on-camera sex with a guy (which here is gravely treated like a novice’s final passage into full nun-hood).

Funnily enough, all this sexploitation isn’t as much of a problem as what’s going on behind the camera. Angelina, who has taken on the newbie-appropriate, professional name of “Cherry,” gets involved in a complex relationship with Francis (James Franco) a wannabe artist turned high-powered lawyer with sudden issues about her line of work. Additionally, Margaret lusts for her, which throws a wrench into her own thing with her girlfriend (Diane Farr, in a traditionally thankless, thoroughly unappetizing, bitter lesbian part).

Director Stephen Elliott and his co-scenarist Lorelei Lee have both toiled as sex workers, and evidently intended this as something of a warm and fuzzy valentine to their profession. Nothing wrong with that—or porn, really—if that’s their true feeling, but unfortunately About Cherry is just about as badly scripted and, ultimately, cheaply exploitative as any two-bit, run-of-the-mill porno. The basic lack of any kind of negative aspect to the profession is unconvincing, as is Angelina’s dramatic arc. One example: She and Andrew have to share a bed in their cramped new SF digs, with her completely oblivious to his unstated love for her. When she discovers him masturbating to one of her videos, she goes off on him so furiously that she merely emerges as the most heartless kind of cock-tease.

Hinshaw is as game as can be under Elliott’s relentlessly probing lens, but ultimately defeated by her character’s complete lack of depth. She’s basically a blank canvas upon which—surprise!—everyone projects their lurid fantasies.  She’s pretty enough in her bland, blonde, generic way, but hardly the stuff universal dreams are made of, like, say, Louise Brooks, who was so understatedly yet spectacularly convincing as the ultimate object of desire in Pandora’s Box. A dissipated-looking Franco merely adds one more puzzling portrait to his ever-burgeoning gallery of indie eccentrics, this one bearing a faintly risible resemblance to his true-life persona as would-be arty Renaissance guy. Graham, who by now is like the Dame Edith Evans of the indie world, is, as ever, competent, but just that in a role which should have been played less like some kind of porno den mother and more flamboyantly for true effect. (Her laughably angry sex scene with Farr will rank as one of 2012’s very worst film moments.)

Patel, whose character probably should have been gay, has literally nothing to do but stare calf-eyed at Hinshaw throughout. As for the ever-edgy Taylor, she must be truly desperate for work to accept such a tiny nothing of a part (although the first sight of her vomiting into a toilet verges on self-parody).