The ignominious face of pornography has slowly become a multi-billion dollar commodity, constructing an image of collective tolerance that undermines the social perception of achieved gender equality. In Stephen Elliott’s Cherry (2012), the seedy underbelly of porn is captured in soft hues, painting a pastel portrait of a business it fails to comprehend. Charting the migration of the industry from the sordid shadow of the San Fernando Valley to the vibrant streets of San Francisco, we observe 18-year-old Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) as she goes from discontented alcoholic’s daughter to liberated adult starlet.
A beautiful and innocent teen ready to blossom under the bright lights of the camera, Angelina represents the corruptibility of a generation challenged with the global economic downturn. Yet, through her vapid and exasperating demeanour, she instead comes to symbolise a vacuous nation of self-entitled consumerists, driven by money, fame and superficial beauty. Throughout Cherry, we’re given no conceivable motivation for Angelina’s decision to take her clothes off so readily. There’s no rebellious desire to conform, no passive aggressive patriarchal figure forcing her, or any kind of economic compulsion.
From Angelina’s first awkwardly-staged photoshoot things go steadily downhill, as our protagonist suddenly finds herself masturbating in front of a lecherous Heather Graham (here playing a ludicrously feisty lesbian porn director) before taking drugs with James Franco whilst enjoying some East Asian ‘art’. Consequently, we’re forced as an audience to question just what manner of irrational actions Angelina would be willing to perform if asked by someone with even a modicum of talent or authority. It’s this lack of any post-feminist pretext in Cherry that turns Elliott’s male-driven fantasy into a lazy defence of the US porn industry as an empowering, progressive and frankly acceptable form of 21st century titillation.
Elliott is a renowned novelist who, for the sake of professional authenticity, co-wrote Cherry with real-life porn actress Lorelei Lee. However, despite this conglomeration of Lee’s industry know-how and Elliott’s celebrated recondite vocabulary, Cherry’s script blurs the lines between the vacant platitudes of the skin flicks being filmed and the dialogue shared by the film’s apathetic cast. At one point, before an engagement with a pneumatic dildo, Angelina is informed that “fucking machines is all about performance”; a pertinent lesson that should really have been observed by the entire cast.
This is particularly true in the case of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) star Dev Patel, whose trivial presence as Angelina’s doleful best friend Andrew is only notable thanks to his appalling attempt at an American accent. Suffering from a long-winded and uninspiring script that’s almost as convoluted as its despicable gender politics, Elliott’s Cherry brings nothing new to the table in relation to the role of pornography within society which, wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing if this wasn’t such a laborious undertaking.