Bouncing back and forth between Ivy League comedy and wrong-side-of-the-tracks meller, writer-director Jeffrey Fine’s “Cherry” is a sparkling coming-of-ager about a 17-year-old virgin who imperfectly juggles academic challenges and off-campus liaisons, somehow emerging able to walk on water. Self-aware enough to resist his preordained career path but too inexperienced to circumvent it, pic’s naive hero stumbles his way through frat-boy inanities and quasi-incestuous sexual experimentation. A solid script, well-timed direction, standout production values and impressive thesping by relative unknowns place this low-budgeter head and shoulders above the norm. “Cherry” is skedded to pop Nov. 5 at Gotham’s Village East.
In his voiceover monologue, Aaron (Kyle Gallner) describes himself as descended from a long line of engineers. His passion, however, is drawing, which his all-controlling mother (Stephanie Venditto) contemptuously dismisses. Indeed, his inability to formulate complex equations without illustrating the result first (usually satirically) makes him popular with his advanced-engineering classmates if not his professor (Matt Walsh), who challenges each student to invent a mechanism that will allow him or her to walk on water, like Jesus.
Aaron soon finds himself surrounded by conflicting, equally unattractive role models. Between his mother’s desire to hang his framed Boy Scout medals on the wall, his hangdog father’s (Kirk Anderson) pathetic gift of a diagram of the clitoris (ignorance of which allegedly wrecked his parents’ marriage), and his beer-swigging, babe-bonking roommate’s (DC Pierson) tendency to lock him out all night, Aaron’s search for a tolerable lifestyle grows increasingly desperate. Enter Linda (Laura Allen), a sexy, 34-year-old “resumed ed” student who tempts him into cutting class and invites him over for homemade lasagna.
Hopelessly smitten with Linda’s free-spirited charms, undaunted by her loud lovemaking sessions with cop b.f. Wes (Esai Morales) and the initial hostility of Linda’s world-weary 14-year-old daughter, Beth (Brittany Robertson), Aaron is soon adopted by the makeshift family, camping out on Linda’s couch and hanging out in Beth’s artistically fanciful attic room until her jailbait advances send him running for cover.
“Cherry” marks a welcome return to the bigscreen for helmer Fine, whose well-received 1996 fiction-feature debut, “No Easy Way,” was followed by multiple smallscreen credits. Here, his sure handling of potentially ungainly material, the casualness of the acting and the visual intensity wrought by Marvin V. Rush’s lensing of Jack Ryan’s convincingly bohemian set design mark Fine as a director worth watching.