American activist and author Stephen Elliott puts down his pen to make his directorial debut with US drama About Cherry (2012), starring James Franco, Ashley Hinshaw, Dev Patel and Heather Graham. The story reveals an unglamourous account of the porn industry in San Francisco, wrapped up in the sometimes compelling tale of high school drop-out Angelina (Hinshaw) and how she comes to be the successful pornstar ‘Cherry’.
It’s unsurprising the Elliott choose to burst on to the scene with a controversial issue like porn, his treatment of the story is saturated in the liberal culture of San Francisco whilst simultaneously exposing the hypocrisy of people living in the city and their attitudes toward the porn industry. Comparisons are made by placing Angelina, who is essentially portrayed as ‘white trash’, against contrasting figures such as her new boyfriend the rich, drug-addled lawyer Francis, played excellently by Franco. This theme is repeated through Heather Graham’s character and her partner where Graham is a porn director and her girlfriend a banker.
Essentially, Elliott’s attempts at comparing what a lawyer or banker does for a living with a porn star then asking who is morally worse fails. This is not because it is not a fair comparison, it is that the exploration is too shallow and his approach is heavy handed. A perfect example would be when Francis discusses art with Angelina and then promptly sniffs a line of cocaine. This aside Elliott does provide a frank and honest look at porn which avoids becoming exploitative or gratuitous.
These criticisms aside, About Cherry’s drama flows at an enjoyable pace and possesses some very fine moments complete with great performances, particularly from Hinshaw. Most interestingly of all is the first half of the film, detailing Angelina’s life with her abusive step-father, alcoholic mother and dead-end job. Elliott undoubtedly has skill as a director, but seems to be carrying his literary baggage into a new medium, as well as an inability to crop unnecessary subplots that if removed would make a much tighter and more enjoyable film.
About Cherry certainly entertains with its great performances and gripping drama – had it explored the issues with a little more gravitas, Elliott would be demonstrating equal skill as a director as he has as an author.
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