The level of sophistication of Cherry, a college comedy with lofty dramatic aspirations, comes across straight away in an opening car scene that establishes its commitment to barely nuanced ordinariness. Incoming freshman Aaron (Kyle Gallner), who comes from “a long line of engineers,” arrives at an unnamed Ivy League university; his father worries, his mother yowls and nags, and he, the skilled artist forbidden from following his dreams, sketches himself in chains.
Aaron’s artistic gifts seem to have been tamped down by his unremitting shrew of a mother, whose idea of a worthwhile elective is a class in integrated systems management. She’s the kind of domineering figure who reeks of plot contrivance, humorlessly dedicated to her son’s technical education, without any explanation beyond the supposed family obligation. Of course, this being college, Aaron finds all kinds of ways to break free from this yoke, mostly by partially moving in with Linda (Laura Allen), a much older student who shares a house with her 14-year-old daughter, Beth (Britt Robertson).
Aaron’s relationship between these two ladies becomes the crux of his ascent into maturity, pitched at the exact place where it can repeatedly hint at ickiness without ever being truly offensive. He dances back and forth between mother and daughter, both halfway in love with him, lusting after each of them, in a contrived setup that seems to be straining at a didactic battle between child and adulthood. Mostly it feels creepy.
The situation isn’t helped by the paper-thin characters that Cherry trades in, which might fit in well in a less ambitious comedy but here feel startlingly out of their depth. The film approximates this same feeling itself, heaping on events and obstacles far too liberally for its skimpy frame. By the time Aaron stumbles into a seedy drug den to rescue Beth, who’s fallen into the clutches of a sinister convenience store clerk, it’s clear that Cherry has abandoned any semblance of realism or humor, grasping instead at increasingly hysterical melodrama.