American Cherry 2023 Movie Review
Opening with a voice-over that quotes Kurt Vonnegut, Marcella Cytrynowicz’s American Cherry immediately pits us deep in teenage melancholia. It also sounds like the perfect title for an unfinished novel. The voice here is that of troubled Finn (Hart Denton) as he narrates the short period in his life actually spent in happier times after meeting fellow teenager Eliza (Sarah May Sommers). Theirs is a relationship that seems to island them together while they both deal with turbulent days. And while the Vonnegut-inspired rhetoric establishes something darkly humorous and strange in this decaying rural middle American that the film takes place within, American Cherry strives for a moody fatalism that it never achieves. The central relationship between the young couple is watchable at times, but it’s an effort that never really gels behind a narrative that takes some odd detours, tries to compensate its moodiness with a consistently heavy handed soundtrack, and plays like an attractive xerox of an early David Gordon Green film.
When we first meet Finn, he’s an obviously troubled individual. He wails at the sky. He collapses in front of his house to the casual attention of his parents. He loves punching concrete walls. The ‘meet-cute’ is even dramatically contrived when Eliza comes to his rescue as he’s lying in the street and hoping to be run over by a car. Like the endless malaise of all small-town romances, she still falls for the bad boy. If these warning signs weren’t enough, things escalate after Finn attacks a substitute teacher and gets kicked out of school.
While the first part of the film deals with Finn’s dark whirlwinds, much more patient and compelling is the character of Eliza. Giving the strongest performance of the bunch, Sommers embodies her role as a teenager scarred and eternally bitter by the separation of her step father and artist/drunkard mother (Leonor Varela). It’s no surprise that she falls hard for the dark bad boy who could give her a reprise from her shattered home life.
However, as American Cherry progresses, it becomes clear that neither one will escape their rural ennui (filmed in the beautifully lush woods of Arkansas). And while Eliza’s friends are obsessed with school dances and drinking beneath the bleachers, Finn and Eliza float about their dilapidated landscape as moody lovers, camcorder in hand to document their nocturnal conversations and the effervescent way Eliza glides in front of the lens for him.
Essentially a woozy, low-budget teen mood piece by heart, there are flashes of brilliance beneath American Cherry and there’s a strong talent buried somewhere within Cytrynowicz’s effort, but it’s often sidetracked by some odd casting choices and overwrought emotions- especially when it comes to the adults in the film. The subplot between Eliza’s mother and step family comes off as comical at times, evidenced by one of the most strained and uncomfortably filmed dinner scenes in a while…. as if everyone has watched a Cassavetes film and are desperately trying to encapsulate the weird emotions that fueled his off-kilter masterpieces of strained communication and imbalanced personalities.
And the home life of Finn isn’t any better as his parents (a miscast pairing of Matty Cardarople and Hanna Griffiths) have force fed him pills since a young age and seem to be completely oblivious to the psychopath he’s become. All of this is shown in camcorder footage (recorded images as the ultimate truth teller I suppose) that highlights the biggest problem with the film. Its best intentions are laid in the innocent relationship between Finn and Eliza as the film’s lackadaisical tempo matches the swooning intermingling of people discovering love for the first time. When American Cherry tries to dig deeper and really understand these teens, it becomes amateurish and overwrought, especially as it barrels towards its dark denouement. It’s a shame American Cherry doesn’t have more to say about small town melancholia. Instead, it becomes fixated on the very boring Finn and his switchblade fatalism. As a complex young character, Eliza deserves better.