Cotton Candy Conundrum


Cherry is a fluffy confection of the film about a serious subject. A favorite at the Tribeca Festival (winning the 2022 Audience Award), it tells the story of an aimless 20-ish woman who finds that, despite her quest to skirt responsibility, she is pregnant. It's not a new dilemma, but one that's treated in a refreshing way by first-time director Sophie Galibert, who cowrote the script with Arthur Cohen. Galibert keeps things simple, and the result is charming.

We first see Cherry (Alex Trewhitt) as she smoothly roller skates along Los Angeles sidewalks. She practically pops on the screen, done up in streetwear and short shorts, with a raver's transparent backpack. A pink heart applique adorns one cheek. She's on her way to work, and once there (at a costume shop) goes to the restroom and administers her pregnancy test. It turns out positive. What to do?

Her prospects are few. She works but doesn't have much of a job; she's the shop's street magician (or "a clown" as her sister calls it). She's in a sort-of relationship with a DJ/musician named Nick, the father, who's pursuing a career of his own. She is AWOL from a skating dance troupe to which she returns unexpectedly ("What're you doing here?"). She talks her way into a gynecologist's office to confirm the test results (she's ten weeks along) and to check her options. She's told she has 24 hours to decide if she'll abort.

Director Galibert shoots all this in only a few extended shots, with most scenes being pure cotton candy. The audience tracks with Cherry, yet we stay back enough to take in much of her world. She's surrounded by bright colors, sparkles, bubbles and shiny objects, suggesting her inability to adhere to commitment. She deploys a batch of airy balloons, passing them out to passersby. She's flighty, brought down to earth only in scenes at her mother's house (on Mother's Day) and when her car won't start in a barren parking lot and she calls her divorced dad to help. The theme is family: when it works, when it doesn't, and when you're ready for it. As Cherry herself remarks, "I'm going to try to not be a f*cked up mom."

It's no surprise that the story is autobiographical. Galibert found herself in a similar spot, and Cherry deals with it as she did. Her ambivalence is frustrating but takes on an energy of its own. This is not a story about deciding so much as assessing the value of life as Cherry knows it. Should she give up her "dreams"?  Are they dreams at all, or just childish notions? A friend admonishes her, "You never give yourself a chance, do you?"

Galibert admires the style of Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, and others, and the influence shows. She makes beginner's missteps -- lapses into clichés, poorly timed line readings, reliance on pop tunes to underscore emotions -- but all those flaws only contribute to a unique vision.

Alex Trewhitt, in the title role, is a feature film first-timer like Galibert, with one other significant credit, the Netflix series From Scratch. She ably carries the film, and her naturalness overcomes her uncertainty in scenes. Cherry is Dan Schultz' film debut as well; he plays Nick the boyfriend. Angela Nicholas (Mom) was on Deadwood. Hannah Alline as Cherry's sister has appeared in Doom Patrol and The Hunt. Veteran character actors include Melinda Dekay (Grandma) and Joe Sachem (Cherry's boss) with backgrounds in theater and commercials.

With a colorful palette and a carefree message, Cherry is a unique take on a situation that's been treated in film many times before. Its tone is lighthearted and might remind you of Juno or Knocked Up. But its ambitions are more modest, and the approach works. Whether you agree or not with her ultimate decision, her trip arriving at it is memorable. Have a balloon.

Cherry. Directed and cowritten by Sophie Galibert. Produced by Entertainment Squad. Released to theaters and on VOD April 21. 76 minutes. 2023.


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