She'd get out more if it wasn't a felony.
Once again, a small independent film fortunately makes its way to DVD. Cherish is the work of San Francisco-based writer/director Finn Taylor, whose other credits include Pontiac Moon and Dream with the Fishes.
Facts of the Case
Zoe Adler (Robin Tunney—The Craft, Vertical Limit, End of Days) is, well, a geek. She has no real friends and no real social life, other than a string of guys who date her once, take advantage of her vulnerability, and don't call back. She works as a computer animator, in fear of her perfect (ice princess) boss Brynn (musician Liz Phair) and secretly pining for a hunky co-worker (Jason Priestly—Beverly Hills 90210). The only way she can express herself is through music; under the pseudonym "Natasha," she is a frequent caller to KXCH "Cherish," an oldies station that specializes in the sappy, sentimental pop music of the 1980s. The radio acts as a soundtrack to her life, allowing her to feel and express emotions that she is inept at handling normally.
Little does Zoe know that she is being stalked. One night, after drinking in a bar with Mr. Handsome from work, she is carjacked by her stalker. He seizes control of the vehicle, runs over a cop, crashes the vehicle, and flees, leaving an unconscious Zoe to take the rap for killing the police officer. While awaiting her trial Zoe is placed on house arrest in an apartment in a run-down, dangerous section of town. She is kept in her prison by a bracelet on her ankle and a sensor attached to her phone line that will sound an alarm if she gets more than 57 feet away.
Zoe's contact with other people is limited to a downstairs neighbor named Max, who is crippled and cannot make in into her second-floor apartment, and Bill (Tim Blake Nelson—Minority Report, O Brother, Where Art Thou?), the technician employed by the county to maintain the bracelet arrest program. They grow to trust each other, and he eventually provides her the means to get out and catch the man who set her up before her time runs out and she has to go to trial.
Part romantic comedy and part thriller, Cherish is quite an enjoyable little film. It's fun, Robin Tunney is about the sweetest thing you could hope to see, and Tim Blake Nelson is both hilarious and touching while remaining mostly deadpan through the entire film. However, it would be a mistake to take the movie quite so lightly. There are bigger themes here that have snuck in amongst all the fun. As writer/director Taylor notes in the special features, this is a movie about the fast pace of modern life and how we find ourselves separated from the people around us, and what we do to try to establish some sort of emotional connection. Zoe's stalker follows her everywhere and takes surreptitious photos. Zoe's neighbor Max has had trouble connecting with people all his life, and finds himself paying for sex. Zoe uses her music as her emotional connection. Bill, who doesn't seem to need any connection at first, connects to Zoe through servicing her monitoring hardware. There are just enough of these thought-provoking elements to give the larger story a sense of purpose and poignancy that it would not have otherwise; these elements are never overdone, and never detract from the overall romantic story or Zoe's detective adventure.
If I were less professional and still single (and a bit nuts), this is the space where I would write something unbelievably sweet about Robin Tunney in the dim hope that she might stumble across it while browsing the internet and be so impressed that she would be swept off her feet and would get in touch with me immediately. Tunney is delightful in this film. Zoe starts out as the awkward geek but slowly becomes more self-assured and confident. Perhaps ironically, much of this character development happens while she is alone in her apartment, even more isolated than normal. Tunney captures it all, and makes even the most absurd situations believable.
Also outstanding is Tim Blake Nelson. The more I learn about Nelson, the more impressed I become. In addition to his acting roles, he also finds time to write and direct films, including the Julia Stiles-does-Shakespeare picture O. Nelson is perfect as Bill. I'm not sure how to elaborate on that. As Finn Taylor states in the commentary track, no one can look as forlorn as Nelson. Nelson understands that Bill is a guy who relates to devices better than people, a guy who is so caught up in the technology of his job that he fails to have a real life. In his own way, Bill is as cut off from the rest of the world as Zoe is, locked in her apartment. Nelson knows this and quite simply makes it work.
New Line has done a nice job with special features on the Cherish DVD. There is a nice behind the scenes featurette. It appears that most of this documentary was shot during the actual shooting of the film, and so the reactions from the actors and others involved in the project are first-hand and genuine, not half-remembered and cooked up later on. The featurette runs a little short at only 18 minutes, but it includes input from a lot of people involved in the movie, especially Taylor, Tunney, and Nelson. There is a deleted scene that is so short as to be totally insignificant, but it is still nice to see it included here. (The commentary track mentions another deleted scene that I think all will wish was included on the DVD, but Taylor had no intention of including it.) There is also an alternate ending to the movie, which is so radically different and makes so little sense that it would have ruined the entire film. Also included is the trailer for Cherish which is…a trailer, and there's not much else to say about it.
As always, the single most important piece of extra content on any DVD is a well-done commentary track. Lo and behold, just such a track is featured on the Cherish DVD. It features Tunney, Taylor, and director of photography Barry Stone. With such a crew, the track gets pretty lively. The participants share a balanced mix of production anecdotes, technical details, and the thought process that went into the various choices that created the movie. Taylor and Tunney are the more chatty of the group, and they tend to drift off-topic once in a while, but Stone is usually there to get them back on task with some technical piece of information about how this or that shot was achieved. One gets the sense that he almost feels bad interrupting the other two at times, but he does well in jerking them back to substantive discussion once in a while. Overall, it is a very good commentary track, and gives interesting background information on how to make an independent film on a tight schedule and budget.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I know that pop music was intended to play a major role in the life of the Zoe character, and so there's a lot of it in the movie. I wonder, though, if there needed to be quite so much. At times, it feels like this entire film is just a collection of musical montages, punctuated with occasional bits of dialogue. I'm as much a child of the Reagan decade as anyone, but I was ready to tear my hair out if I heard one more song from the roller rink.
The only other real complaint I have would be the picture quality. There is a lot of grain and noise everywhere. Some scenes look a little washed out, or maybe overexposed. What looks to me like edge enhancement shows up occasionally, although it is not too severe. Fine details look a bit soft at times, and shadows are murky and inky with no gradations of darkness. All of this sounds a lot worse than it actually is, and as usual, the normal viewer sitting at a normal viewing distance from the screen probably won't notice too many problems. On the positive side, colors are sharp and true-to-life.
The audio is an unremarkable stereo mix. It does a surprisingly good job of filling the room with '80s pop tunes, and dialogue is easy to understand, but that's about it. That's about all this movie really needed, though; this is not XXX, after all.
Cherish is a fun movie, well written and directed, filled with interesting and talented actors. It probably won't be getting any awards, but it's enjoyable and has something to say that you can either take or leave. The DVD is a nice package with some worthwhile features. This is not an earthshaking, "important" film, but it is a good one.
Not guilty! The suspect is free to take off the bracelet and leave her apartment.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary by Writer-Director Finn Taylor, Robin Tunney, and DP Barry Stone
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