Friday, September 21, 2012

Stephen Elliott's ABOUT CHERRY views the porn industry from an interesting angle

Not great, but better than many of its reviews might indicate, ABOUT CHERRY, the new film from fledgling co-writer (with Lorelei Lee) and director Stephen Elliott, tracks the entry into pornography (making it, rather than watching it) of a smart and lovely young high-schooler named Angelina (played by the equally beautiful and believable Ashley Hinshaw), who eventually become "Cherry" to her many new fans.

In their film, Mr. Elliott (shown at right) and Ms Lee take what seems to TrustMovies to be a relatively unusual stance by looking at the pornography business -- as it exists, at least, in the San Francisco-based venue seen here -- as a business first, with any judgmental views running a distant second. Even seen as that business, the industry wins no awards: It's clearly sexist, and second-rate so far as polite society is concerned, not to mention what it may or may not do to the young girls who get involved here, and to the soceity at large on which its product is unleashed. Yet About Cherry does not demonize its pornography, the product or people involved, but merely shows it as it is -- for which intelligent film-goers should be grateful.

The movie also gives the young British-born (by way of India, one would imagine) actor Dev Patel (shown above, right, with Ms Hinshaw) his richest role so far, as the best friend and silent, would-be lover of Angelina. Mr. Patel, after larger and more important -- though completely clichéd -- roles in Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, here sinks his teeth into the part of a slightly geeky but quite lovely young man who cares deeply for this girl of his dreams but is too unsure of himself (and of her) to speak or act upon it. The scene in which he goes out to party with his gay roommate and finds that lots of other young men are attracted to him is delightful and moving.

The film's two "stars" (at least in terms of how well-known each is) are actually James Franco (above) and Heather Graham (below), and both give fine performances -- she as Angelina's "mentor" who clearly has an interest in the girl both business-wise and sexual, and he as the owner of the porn business, a young man who seems rather dashing and attractive but who turns out to live up (down, really) to Angelina's alcoholic mother's assessment of him.

Mom is played by another good actress we haven't seen for awhile: Lili Taylor, below, who remains as good as she always was, here playing the parent figure as someone who cares most about her daughter when it suits her own purposes.

I suspect that the dismissive notices for this film comes mostly because the movie is not teaching us the lesson most of us expect (and probably want to hear): that pornography destroys anything and everything it touches. Instead, the message here is muted but still resonant. This career -- given what our girl has on offer back home in Los Angeles, or even here in San Francisco, in the current economy, as a waitress or sales clerk, perhaps -- may be the intelli-gent choice, given what our society is now mostly about: capitalism run rampant by that uber-sleazy one-percent, turning all of us into wage slaves whose benefits approach ever closer to zero.

About Cherry, from the IFC Midnight series and running 102 minutes, opens theatrically today, Friday, September 21. Here in New York City, it's playing at the IFC Center, but for one screening only Friday and Saturday (around midnight), then Monday and Tuesday in the early PM). It has also been available via VOD for the past month or so and will continue there for some time to come.

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