Someday a movie is going to be made that will take us inside the adult film industry and show us the reality of what goes on there. That film will introduce us, in the cold light of day, to the machinations that make such an industry possible and the people who operation within it. When that film comes, let us hope that it answers the most basic fundamental questions that we the audience will have: How and why does someone get into that industry? What is their home life like? How does it effect their married life? What about their children? Are they worried about raising children while explaining what mommy or daddy does for a living? Are they worried about AIDS? How do you move into another profession while still carrying the stigma of being a “porn star”? What happens when you reach the inevitable age when you are no longer sexy and photogenic? What then?
That movie is still to be made because clearly About Cherry answers none of these questions. Here is an independent film that seems to send mixed signals from it’s plot synopsis and then from its trailer. Is it a sex film? Is it a cautionary tale? Is it a love story? Turns out, it tries to be several things but the comes off as just a hack job, a movie with a little nudity and a lot of wasted talent. It is suppose to be a portrait of one woman’s journey toward becoming an adult film star but comes off as slow, uninteresting and anti-climactic. It doesn’t have any characters for us to care about nor any of the “good parts” that a lot of moviegoers will be hoping for.
The movie stars Ashley Hinsaw as Angelina, a twenty-something Long Beach teenagers who lives at home with her alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor) and her mom’s abusive boyfriend. That situation is hardly explored at all. We see the mother hugging the toilet and the boyfriend stomping about the house like an angry bear (we see him only in shadow). We briefly meet Angelina’s little sister (Maya Raines) whom she cares about but who only appears around the very edges of the film. Their relationship is never really dealt with.
One day, cash-strapped Angelina gets a slight suggestion from her current boyfriend (Jonny Weston) that she try a nude photoshoot with a company that runs a porn site. Why not? It might be an easy way to make money. She meets a guy named Vaughn (Ernest Waddell), who is one of the nicest, most understanding pornographers that you are ever likely to meet. The photo shoot goes well, but the boyfriend gets upset and they break up. So, she decides – without telling her mother – to pull up stakes and use to money to move to San Francisco with her best friend Andrew (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire). Their relationship is so chaste, it borders on surreal, especially when they move into an apartment and agree to share the same bed.
In The City by the Bay, she starts serving drinks at a stripclub and meets two very important people. First is Francis (James Franco), a lawyer with cocaine addiction who quickly becomes her new boyfriend. The other is Margaret (Heather Graham), who directs fetish porn films and suggests that Angelina could make $800 a shoot. She likes the idea and before long she finds herself embroiled in the business under the name Cherry.
What happens isn’t exactly a rollercoaster of dramatic tension. Angelina gets involved in the adult film industry and starts making money. As she does, all kinds of problem begin stirring up in her personal life, all of which we can predict before the movie starts. It is a surprise that Francis has a problem with her profession? Is it a surprise that mom comes to visit, finds out about her new career and abandons her? Is it a surprise that questions arise about Angelina’s real age? Is it a surprise that she catches Andrew having a good time with one of her movies?
The characters are half-written and don’t seem to have any life. Francis is laconic and sleepy. Margaret is a sleaze merchant that we are meant to believe has a heart of gold. And Andrew is treated like a puppy, brought in to be Angelina’s best friend. It is difficult to care because none of these people are the least bit interesting, especially in a badly written subplot involving Margaret’s relationship with Jillian, her lover of 8 years. Their relationship has no consistency. After nearly a decade, Jillian begins to have concerns about Margaret’s profession and it brings their relationship to a screeching halt. So, what happened in the previous 8 years? Their breakup scene, in which they have angry sex, is silly and awkward and disturbingly voyeuristic.
About Cherry comes from first-time director Stephen Elliott who co-wrote the screenplay with real-life porn star Lorelei Lee. Clearly, she knows the inside world of the adult film industry, but her screenplay is a mess. She wants to comment on the scummy world of the porn business but Elliot employs a soundtrack that romanticizes it. The movie off-sets a few fleeting sex scenes (very few) with dramatic moments that contain long passages of meaningless dialogue. There are only a handful of scenes showing Angelina in front of the camera but they are all shot in a sleazy voyeuristic way that goes nowhere runs way too short to be of any interest. Yes, there is some nudity and Miss Hinsaw is very attractive, but we get the sense that the director has gotten caught up in the moment and forgotten that he is suppose to be making a point. The end of the film, when Angelina’s world has completely come apart is – much like the rest of the film – one of the most confounding conclusions you’ll ever experience.
American films that explore sex with even an ounce of maturity are so rare that it is heartbreaking when an attempt goes bad. Here was a movie that had the potential to ask a lot of questions and explore a subject that we might have found interesting, but blows the opportunity at every turn. Here is a badly constructed movie that wants to say something but clearly doesn’t know what that is.