Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch after you see the Russo brothers’ Cherry.
Joe and Anthony Russo‘s ambitious adaptation of Cherry has been called “six movies in one,” and while that’s a negative criticism from some viewers, the filmmakers intended for their Avengers follow-up to be a combo of genres and tones. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker and scripted by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, Cherry is broken up into six chapters. Each depicts a different phase of Walker’s adult life as he went from college kid to army recruit to war medic to drug addict to bank robber to prisoner. It’s certainly not the first film to vivisect a life into very different pieces (see the also but quite dissimilarly ambitious Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There), but it certainly can feel disjointed.
Even beyond the six chapters and their distinct feel, Cherry contains a multitude of styles and techniques and homages within each section. I could probably compile the largest list of recommendations of any installment of Movie DNA yet by going through the two-hour-plus film scene-by-scene and shot-by-shot. I’m not going to do that, but I invite anyone to tell me (via Twitter) what other movies are worth watching after the Russo brothers effort — whether it’s their own past crime comedy Welcome to Collinwood (2002) or the other convoluted new Ohio-set memoir adaptation Hillbilly Elegy (2020) or Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) because it inspired Tom Holland‘s mustache in the final act of Cherry.
Below is a list of just six movies, each assigned to one of the chapters of the film. I don’t know for a fact if any of them were direct influences on the Russos or anyone else in the making of Cherry, but some of them are pretty obvious. The rest are just similar movies linked by the various genres or plot points. And I’ve referenced and suggested additional titles here and there in case you want to fill out your watchlist further.
Part One: When Life Was Beginning I Saw You
Love Story (1970)
You’ve heard the famous quote. You know the tragic ending. You probably know someone named Jennifer who was named after one of the main characters. But have you ever actually seen Love Story? The iconic romance drama follows two young adults (Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw) who meet and fall in love while in college, get married, begin their life together, and then one of them winds up terminally ill with leukemia. And you go through a box of tissues during the end credits. It’s the first act of Love Story that I thought of during the first chapter of Cherry, particularly the paralleling plot point where the girl plans to study in another country without thinking about the boy’s feelings about what that would do to them as a couple.
In both movies, those plans are canceled for love, which leads to the pair wedded, for better or worse. Cherry, improbably yet genuinely, has a much happier ending, though. There’s even some drama involving disapproving parents, but in Cherry, it’s her parents attempting to break up the lovers later on after she overdoses, and in Love Story, it’s his father cutting him off for marrying someone of a lower class.
More suggestions: The Rules of Attraction (2002), because it’s an ambitiously stylized college movie from one of the writers of Pulp Fiction (which some Cherry reviews cited as being riffed on by the Russos); Dear John (2010), about young love interrupted by military deployment (which leads us to the next chapter of Cherry…)
Part Two: Basic
Basic Training (1971)
If you’ve seen Cherry, right now you’re thinking, “How is Full Metal Jacket not the movie recommended here?” Yes, the army basic training chapter of Cherry is clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s war movie, particularly its own first half, set during basic training for an ensemble of US Marines recruits heading to Vietnam. Well, once you watch Frederick Wiseman’s relatively short (especially for him) documentary Basic Training, you’ll understand why. The first half of Full Metal Jacket is nearly a remake of the documentary. Save for the Private “Pyle” storyline, that is. And it’s no coincidence, according to Wiseman, who claims Kubrick had borrowed a copy of Basic Training at some point before making his movie.
More suggestions: Full Metal Jacket (1987), which the Russos are very likely to have been more directly influenced by and probably without having ever seen Basic Training; the Beatles pastiche musical Across the Universe (2007), which features an even more stylishly exaggerated music-video-esque version of boot camp seemingly modeled after Full Metal Jacket.
Part Three: Cherry
Despite spawning three sequels, this memoir adaptation was not a box office hit nor a critical success, and I’ve long considered it an underrated effort, one with a rare depiction of the Gulf War in the early ’90s. That’s why it was interesting to see it mentioned in so many Cherry reviews as the go-to comparison for the third chapter, which follows Holland’s character to the Iraq War. Of course, the two conflicts in Iraq are hardly comparable, and Cherry sees more action in its war scenes, as well as charred US soldiers rather than charred Iraqis, but in the moments before tragedy strikes, it matches the masculine military atmosphere of Jarhead. I also just find Jarhead worth acknowledging for the way it, in turn, acknowledges prior cinematic depictions of war and how they’re perceived positively by gung-ho young soldiers who are looking to fight and kill.
More suggestions: Battle for Haditha (2007), which is an under-seen Iraq War film from documentarian Nick Broomfield’s brief narrative-drama period spotlights a true story of the brutal aftermath of a roadside bomb like the one depicted in Cherry; The Hurt Locker (2011), Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture winner with a specific look at a bomb squad during the Iraq War.