It takes a tenacious suspension of disbelief to buy the gorgeous Shalom Harlow as a virgin in “Cherry,” but the thesp-model is the best thing in this occasionally charming but largely uneven romantic comedy about a 29-year-old woman coming belatedly of age in Gotham. Though the film falls well short of its comedic promise, Harlow’s name and famous visage will draw attention and could well help snag a distributor.
Jilted at the altar at 19, Leila Sweet (Harlow) has sworn off men for good. After burning her wedding dress and love letters, she finishes Harvard and returns to New York to run a muffin shop, where waitresses Darcy (Aleksa Palladino, who narrates) and Dottie (Heather Matarazzo) regularly outnumber the customers. Sharing a flat with her dog, Paxil, Leila lives quietly in apparent contentment — until she decides one day that she needs to have a child.
Resolute in pursuing her goals, be they celibacy or finding a sperm donor, Leila places a personal ad and begins interviewing prospective candidates. But the applicant pool — a predictable montage of misfits and morons — yields nothing. Meanwhile, two men vie for her attention: a gentle neighbor with the improbable name of Beverly Kirk (Jake Weber), who turns out, even more improbably, to be Leila’s gynecologist, and a professional clown named Eddie (Donovan Leitch).
Adding to an already motley cast of characters are Leila’s self-absorbed sister Evy (Laurel Holloman), who’s busy planning her own wedding; her charming gay Uncle Ernest (Gil Rogers); his quirky partner, Mammy (David McCallum); and an enigmatic poet/menu man (Isaach de Bankole, memorable in Claire Denis’ “Chocolat”). If that weren’t enough, Beverly comes across two adorable street urchins, Jack (Caleb Archer) and Red (Kelly Singer), both in desperate need of a loving home.
Most of the supporting players serve more to provide comic relief than to propel the story forward; ultimately, they clutter the film and bog it down. For a frothy comedy like this, Terry Reed’s script feels flabby where it should be lithe and lean.
Still, Harlow, a surprisingly deft and self-effacing comedienne, commands interest whenever she’s onscreen, which is most of the time. Having turned her cameo in “In and Out” into a delectable critique on bimbo supermodels, she does all she can here to carry “Cherry.” But Weber, finally, is far too bland and mild-mannered a suitor for her, a problem that imperils their romantic potential and, frankly, makes you wonder what exactly you should be rooting for.
Briefly, “Cherry” has dim — very dim — shades of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Arthur,” with an inevitable dose of deus ex machina in a climactic wedding sequence. Phil Abraham’s lensing offers a colorful, romanticized view of Gotham, and generally sharp production values help to mitigate the flaws in this directorial debut from Jon Glascoe and Joseph Pierson.