‘Cherry’: A Powerful Coming-of-Age Story

cherry-movie-posterAfter watching Cherry last night, I wish I would have watched it at the beginning of my first semester away at school.  The 2010 independent film follows Aaron Milton (Kyle Gallner), an awkward 17-year-old college freshman starting his first semester at an unnamed ivy league school.  Aaron loves to draw and considers being an artist, but his mother plans for him to be an engineer.  She doesn’t understand why he would want to take a drawing class at school because she considers it a waste of time.  While Aaron is a good student and cited to be talented when it comes to engineering, he’s much more attracted to art.

His mother spends all her time trying to make sure everything is perfectly aligned for his academic success, but his father is more concerned about Aaron having a social life and meeting girls.  Before leaving him, Aaron’s father hands him a letter with an attached diagram of the female genitalia, citing that he hopes his son discovers it sooner than he did, as that mistake lead to the downfall of his marriage (Aaron’s parents are divorced).

Throughout the first part of the film, Aaron goes through the many troubles faced by first-year university students, and I suppose that’s what I found so fascinating about this movie.  It does a good job accurately portraying what it’s like.  He spends his time taking off the labels with his name on them that his overprotective mother placed on his belongings.  He feels out of place when he realizes he’s the only one to wear a bath robe to the bathroom in the morning, as everyone else is shirtless in a towel.  He struggles to make friends, as he’s seen alone in his room, studying, most of the time, while his roommate, “Wild Bill,” has some of his obnoxious friends over.  He defends himself to Bill several times by proclaiming that he is not a virgin – when accused of being one -, because as a male college student at a university, telling others that you’re a virgin is probably the worst thing you can do.  While not completely comparable to my experience, I’d say the depiction is pretty accurate.

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Meanwhile, Aaron starts attending an art class where he meets a 30-something student named Linda (Laura Allen).  The two start to talk more and more, and she slowly becomes Aaron’s only real friend at school.  He tries desperately to develop a relationship with fellow student and acquaintance Darcy, but it doesn’t quite work out.  So he spends most of his time with Linda.  When she invites him over for dinner one night, Aaron meets Linda’s 14-year-old daughter, Beth.  Beth is a loud-mouth, rude young girl that acts older than her age (Britt Robertson, the actress who portrayed her, was 20 at the time though).  Aaron eventually starts to spend most of his time at Linda’s home.  He sleeps on her couch and she drives him back to campus the following morning.  He finds the arrangement nice, as he doesn’t exactly get along with his roommate, and there’s often a “do not disturb” sign on his dorm room door because Bill has a girl over.

However, things take a turn when Aaron starts falling for Linda, despite their huge age gap and the fact that Linda has a boyfriend, cop Wes (Esai Morales).  On the other hand, Beth is starting to fall for Aaron, and he has no interest in her because of their three year age gap.  If you think about it, the age difference isn’t huge between the two, but when one is a freshman in high school and the other a freshman in college, it’s pretty big.

Aaron’s life slowly starts to fall apart as he starts missing more and more classes.  He isn’t doing well in his engineering courses and his professor is worried.  His mother catches wind of what’s going on and makes a trip to see him.  After meeting Linda, she decides that Linda is the source of all of Aaron’s problems, but Aaron grows angry and chooses to stay with Linda despite his mother’s concerns.  But things start crashing down all around Aaron when he starts to see a different, less attractive side of Linda, and an emotional Beth runs away, all while he faces an important engineering project.

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I have to say that Cherry had me interested the whole way through.  There wasn’t really any point in the movie where I felt bored or disinterested.  I felt like the plot was good enough.  The only problem I really see is Aaron’s interest in Linda.  When I see him pining after her, I don’t necessarily see a boy in love, but a boy desperate to lose his virginity, as he goes back and forth between Linda and Darcy, and eventually Beth (though he realizes this is wrong and stops himself).  Not much of a connection is really seen there.  The two can be seen as good friends, but they don’t have the chemistry to be seen the other way.  Aaron eventually realizes that it’s wrong, of course, but a somewhat big plot point in the movie is his attraction to her.

Kyle Gallner does a great job as always.  He really knows how to play an awkward, worrisome young adult pretty well.  He might not necessarily be known to be typecasted in the same type of role like Michael Cera, but he plays to his strengths as a stressed teenager with emotions bottled up inside (see the Veronica Mars episode “Not Pictured”).  Laura Allen and Britt Robertson play their parts well as Linda, the former alcoholic mother who isn’t a great parent, and Beth, the teenage daughter forced to “be strong” at a young age who wants to be seen as older than she actually is.

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Cherry is successful in being humorous and relatable at the same time.  With Aaron’s desperation to lose his virginity, one might expect something similar to a high school sex comedy, but it’s much more than that.  The humor is more subtle without being so subtle and dry that you won’t get it.  No, Aaron doesn’t find himself in wacky incidences one might expect from a high school sex comedy, but he finds himself in everyday predicaments that are funny because they’re little things we might all go through (with maybe a few exceptions).

When I boil it down, I’d like to think of Cherry as a coming-of-age movie about a boy struggling to adjust to his first year of college and trying to become his own person.  Sure, the supposed love triangle makes for an interesting plot, but again, what makes this movie so great is the realistic portrayal of life as a college freshman.  Having to be alone a lot of the time (at first at least), pressure from your parents to do well, stress caused by second thoughts about your chosen major, curiosity about the new world you’re suddenly surrounded by, and desire to be accepted by your peers are all very real aspects.

At the beginning of Cherry, we see Aaron struggling to get a grip of his new life at school, and as time goes on, things start getting worse as he loses interest in school and has to deal with a new great deal of problems caused by Linda, Beth, and disagreements with his mother.  But in the end, we see Aaron finally starting to get a handle of things.  By the end of my first semester at college, I felt like I’d learned how to handle things myself, and I felt like I’d grown a lot as a person.  And by the end of Cherry, you will see Aaron has grown a lot as well, which is satisfying in its own right.

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