The hot-button issue of abortion is approached in a humane, meaningful way in “Cherry,” an intimate dramedy about a young woman forced to make the toughest decision of her life in a very short timeframe. Making immediate her emotional and physical struggles as she explores whether or not to keep her baby, the film wins us over with an unwavering focus on its eponymous heroine’s coming-of-age journey. Timely subject matter aside, this briskly-paced, clean-lined feature is an assured debut for French-born director Sophie Galibert. After picking up an audience award at last year’s Tribeca fest, “Cherry” opens in select U.S. theaters April 14, with digital platforms to follow the week after.
Frazzled 25-year-old Cherry (Alex Trewhitt) is having a tough time. Her ruby-red VW Beetle has mechanical problems, forcing her to roller-skate to her job at a small costume shop, arriving late. Her demanding boss (Joe Sachem) is at his wits’ end with her repeated screw-ups: After she inadvertently messes up a customer’s order, she’s fired on the spot. Even with a job, she’s had trouble supporting herself financially, so she’s moving in with her latest fling, roller-rink DJ Nick (Dan Schultz). And after taking a home pregnancy test she’s put off for weeks, she’s just found out she’s carrying his child.
Dismayed and distraught, Cherry visits a local clinic to explore her options. A kindly doctor looks with pity on this put-upon patient and explains that because she’s approaching her 11th week, the law gives her only 24 hours to decide whether to keep or abort the baby. Viewing the ultrasound and hearing the fetal heartbeat don’t assuage her worries. Her career dreams are also under pressure from bestie Mia (Alice Bang), who has booked their roller-dance squad on a six-month tour around the U.S. and Europe. Cherry must take stock of her life and her choices, and fast.
Without preaching to the choir or standing in judgement, Galibert and co-writer Arthur Cohen (working from a story by Galibert, Cohen and Anne-Claire Jaulin) shrewdly avoid turning sensitive subject matter into an after-school special. Cherry’s ultimate decision is almost incidental: Rather, her pregnancy serves as the catalyst for an introspective journey towards honesty and autonomy. Because her self-destructive habits are so relatable, we root for her to stop underestimating her capabilities, and to give some grace to herself and others — in particular, her emotionally distant dad Bob (Charlie S. Jensen) and her hyper-critical older sister Anna (Hannah Alline).
Trewhitt demonstrates dynamic range as she digs into Cherry’s self-created conundrums, shaping and softening her irresponsible eccentricities while highlighting a sympathetic soul. She’s a captivating presence, giving voice to Cherry’s nuanced conflicts and guiding us through her inevitable metamorphosis. With nimble ease, she brings out the humor in heartrending circumstances, best exemplified through her interactions with clinic assistant Quinton (Darius Levanté) and her dementia-suffering grandmother (Melinda DeKay).
Gigi Harding’s costume design augments Trewhitt’s compelling character work, as Cherry’s carefree, California-casual clothing reflects her arrested development. From her youthful tops down to her glittery red skates (mimicking Dorothy’s famous slippers in “The Wizard of Oz”), her outward appearance provides insightful shorthand into this young woman and her contrasting relationships. Carefully crafted production design mirrors her arc, specifically during Cherry’s more reflective phase, as she pores over childhood trinkets while listening to her bedazzled boombox.
The film’s message that it’s never too late to get back on track — and that tenacity, courage and strength are found through freedom of choice — lands with empowering gusto as our no-longer-harried heroine passes out colorful balloons. Yet that joy dulls slightly after the credits roll and reality hits, particularly for those in states where a woman’s right to choose is currently under extreme threat. Confronting that larger crisis directly is not the goal here. Though “Cherry” dips a toe in those troubled topical waters, it does so only gingerly, preferring instead to spin an uncomplicated, timeless tale about a woman coming into her own.
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