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Movie Review

Cherry

A convincingly awkward coming-of-age

Kyle Gallner plays an Ivy League freshman in Jeffrey Fine’s new movie, “Cherry.’’ Kyle Gallner plays an Ivy League freshman in Jeffrey Fine’s new movie, “Cherry.’’ (Marvin Rush)
By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / October 15, 2010

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To hear the setup of writer-director Jeffrey Fine’s coming-of-age indie “Cherry,’’ you might guess it was some teen-titillation nonsense cynically thrown together right on the heels of “Risky Business.’’ What else to make of a story about an awkward, sexually unschooled Ivy League freshman who finds himself confusedly longing for a female classmate in her mid-30s — and longed for in turn by the woman’s 14-year-old daughter? The reality: Fine says he loosely based the movie on his own experience at Brown University some years back. And this recent Boston Film Festival pick is sufficiently stocked with honest moments that it rarely feels contrived.

Kyle Gallner (“Veronica Mars’’) summons some of Tobey Maguire’s pained expressions and fumbling decency as Aaron Milton, a kid whose oppressively practical folks pack him off to school with every expectation that he’ll be the next engineer in the family. (The unnamed campus is actually in Kalamazoo, Mich.) His mom sure isn’t encouraging him to be an artist, despite his penchant for comix-style doodling. Potential hookups don’t even register as a cause for conversation, although Aaron’s dad does thoughtfully tuck away an anatomical diagram for him, in one of the film’s few broad moments.

In an elective life-drawing class, Aaron gets past his embarrassment about the — gulp — nude models by chatting with Linda (Laura Allen), an attractively edgy straight shooter amused by his politesse. Aaron isn’t entirely sure where things are headed when Linda begins inviting him over to her place. He’s even less sure after he meets her daughter, Beth (Brittany Robertson, “Life Unexpected’’), an attitude grrrl worldly enough to call him on his screwy intentions. At the same time, Beth is young enough that she’s soon falling for Aaron herself, despite his emphatic resistance. Esai Morales is on hand to further complicate the situation as Linda’s policeman boyfriend.

The movie stirs up a thoroughly relatable swirl of youthful tentativeness, raging hormones, and the thrill and angst that come with new independence — all the things running through a good kid’s head at 17. DC Pierson credibly plays the obnoxious roommate you somehow learn to live with; David Mamet’s daughter Zosia (“Mad Men’’) is fun as the girl you upset without meaning to. An Internet hazing gag rings true, albeit exaggeratedly, and with unfortunate echoes of the recent episode at Rutgers.

The story is less consistently effective in expressing perspectives other than Aaron’s. Robertson has a terrific, bitter rant in which her character makes clear what life has been like with her hard-luck mom. But when Linda’s D grade on an “Iliad’’ paper is used as shorthand to get across her struggle for reinvention, it does the character and the drama a disservice. Maybe that’s in keeping with the movie’s theme, though. Having a limited view of the world through other people’s eyes is also fairly typical of life at 17.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

CHERRY Written and directed by: Jeffrey Fine

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Laura Allen, Brittany Robertson, and Esai Morales

At: Somerville Theatre

Running time: 100 minutes

Unrated (language, nudity, sexuality, brief drug use)

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