Review: ‘Cherrybomb’ by Karo

published 17 February 2009
written by Karo

I am going to write this review without giving too much away that hasn’t been said in the official summary, which you can read here.

Note of Warning: Major NC-17 word and spoiler near the end: Mentioned one word used in the film…

I will eventually work on a thorough recount of the film which will contain the major spoilers, but this one is safe, so here we go:

As everyone on this site, I’ve been excited about Cherrybomb ever since we learned about it being Rupert’s new film on 2 July 2008. Unlike most of the people on this site, I was among the few who had the chance to see it at it’s World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on 8 February 2009.

After everything we had heard about Cherrybomb beforehand, I had pretty high expectations. And usually, it’s difficult to have one’s high expectations fulfilled.

Cherrybomb is a film that works on various levels: Although the summary might give the impression that the story is about to be told for the millionth time, the psychological journeys of the characters are acted out perfectly, while the acting is surrounded by a wonderful soundtrack and great visuals.

Due to its artistic style, the film is a true “eye-candy”, whether it is the way the kids text messages appear on screen or the colours and camera-angles of various scenes. Scenes in which emotions run high come up in an almost collage-like way, with lots of close-up shots, some of them clear and some blurry, so one rarely gets to see the entire scene, but only bits and pieces of it.

No air-brushing has been done, so the characters appear on screen as in real life (aside from their hair-styles), but that makes the scenes appear much more realistic and therefore much more honest.
It’s also the tiny details like the trio’s necklaces, or Smiley’s tattoo (two smiley faces on his throat) or even Michelle and her dad wearing clothes with the same pattern, that are amazing. Overall, it is a film so visual that it makes the audience notice something new each time they see it.

It is easy to understand why the Cherrybomb soundtrack was nominated for the Irish Film and Television Awards. The songs styles are very different, ranging from flyKKiller’s eclectic Cherrybomb to Exmagician’s pop and Robyn Shiels’ acoustic music. Yet they all fit their respective scenes perfectly and are an amazing representation of Belfast’s colourful musical scene.

The pace of the film is very quick. The cut-and-paste style of the party scenes give the feeling everyone knows who has been to a great party: The better it is, the quicker it’s over. More, but not too much time is spent on the emotional scenes between the different characters. No scene seems to long, but there are many scenes where one wishes to spend a bit more time with the characters (not because the pace is too quick, but because one wants to stay with the characters to get an even better understanding of them).

It is always difficult on a low-budget film to find suitable sets for the scenes to take place.
Cherrybomb’s Lifeboat club looks cozy enough for a great night out with your mates, while the Titanic Leisureplex seems to be a cool place to hang out at.

For example, the three main characters’ rooms are a perfect representation of their family lifes:
Malachy’s room is full of things (including pictures, books, music stuff), and has a protective atmosphere, showing how much his parents care for him.
Michelle’s room is pink and very sappy, yet entirely different from Michelle’s own style. Very suitable for the daughter who is always named “Princess” by her dad, who in turn does not know what she wants from him.
Luke’s room is, just like his family life, the saddest. It is a cold, white room, with only a huge painting (showing a yellow and red kind of whirlwind), a mattress as his bed, and six polaroids of him and Malachy above the “bed”.

Cherrybomb is set in Belfast, and everyone knows that the actors had to speak in a Northern Irish accent. As far as I can judge their accent (and that is mainly based on the interview with David Holmes), I think they did an amazing job!

Luke’s family has the thickest accent, and it was sometimes quite difficult to understand his drunk and very distraught father. Malachy’s family and Crilly had an obvious, but easily understandable accent, while Michelle’s was very light. Not being a native speaker, I couldn’t tell apart which of the actors were indeed from Northern Ireland and those who weren’t.

The actors were all brilliant.

James Nesbitt and Lalor Roddy play David Crilly and Smiley, Michelle’s and Luke’s respective fathers. While Crilly appears to be a “good” father on the first look (button-up shirt, tie, etc), he most obviously is not. Smiley – in contrast to Crilly dressed in an almost Keith-Richards-like way – is an alcoholic who is incapable of taking care of his son Luke.

While many of the scenes with Crilly and Michelle have very funny dialogues, the scenes with Luke and his dad are incredibly touching.

Kat Kirk plays Sharon, Conor MacNeill plays Fanta, and Niamh Quinn plays Donna. Sharon and Fanta are mates of Luke and Malachy, while Donna is Michelle’s best friend and Crilly’s lover. They play the kids that appear in each gang: One with a secret crush, one who tries to be cooler than he is, and the other who keeps a secret.

Kimberley Nixon portrays Michelle, who is the cyclist for the boys’ crazy actions. She gets to show a huge range of emotions and, as sneaky as her actions are, it is easy to understand her reasons for them. Kim gives the perfect image of the daughter who knows what she expects from her dad, but cannot tell him because both her parents neglect her, while Crilly is oblivious to her needs.

Luke is played by Robert Sheehan. He has amazing scenes with his dad where the audience can easily feel both their pain. It’s visible that they both know what they would want from each other, yet are not able to get there. Luke only has one good and stable person in his life, and that is Malachy.

Rupert Grint plays Malachy, the only one of the trio who has a family he could rely on, yet he wants the exciting moments he shares with Luke, and he wants Michelle.

Rupert’s portrayal of Malachy is amazing. Rupert turns into a completely different character than the ones we already know, and does it in so many different ways: A new walk, a different posture, a different sound of his voice, a new hairstyle and different facial expressions, among them a smirk that could give any Malfoy a run for his money! He IS Malachy, and noone else. No trace of Ron, Ben, Alan or Rupert himself. Only Malachy.

Rupert also did many things that surprised me. He used to say he would not want to do a sex scene, he always said he would want to do comedy, not romance, and yet in Cherrybomb he does all that.

The trio on screen are like a match made in heaven. All three of them are very expressive without overacting, so every single scene seems very natural, and the fact that the actors are on the same level of acting helps to make the scenes even more intense.

The trio work great together, but the scenes with only two of them are also amazing. Whether it is Luke and Malachy hanging out without a care in the world or at the point where their friendship appears to be over; whether Luke and Michelle get cozy or he makes her cry; or whether it is Michelle teasing Malachy or him being completely smitten, the scenes are great and the emotions are easy to read on their faces.

As everyone is interested in the “love scene”:
It is filmed in that cut-and-paste/blurry-and-clear-blending-together sort of way, which makes anyone watching it feel very close to what happens on screen. There are no noises, only the music (“Fear” from FlyKKiller), and one never gets to see the two of them completely, but mainly their skin.
It is very artistically done, and not, as the word “sex scene” might suggest, in a lewd way, hence the description “love scene” appears much more suitable.

I am usually frustrated with sex scenes is films, as they often don’t serve a purpose to the story and simply appear to be there to make the audience watch the acting star naked. The love scene in Cherrybomb DOES serve a purpose to the story, and while it is very hot, it is also sweet and very tender, and as much skin as it shows, it doesn’t reveal anything inappropriate. To me, this has been the best scene of this sort I have EVER seen.

Overall, I enjoyed Cherrybomb immensely, and the film even managed to top my expectations. The cut right before the love scene begins (when the scene in begins, not the love-making itself) could have been a tiny bit tidier, but a week of reflection after watching the film twice, I haven’t found anything else to complain about.

So why did Cherrybomb not win at the Berlin Film Festival?

First of all, the jury consists of teenagers between 14 and 18 (as far as I know), who have been to the Festival the year before and filled out a form to be chosen for the jury.

I think there were two main problems for the jury:

1. While the Festival is open for everyone, it is usually visited by people with a somewhat better economic status. Hence, the jury members of Generation are most likely to come from stable families and are enjoying a pretty good education. I doubt that they have partied, taken drugs and faced similar problems as the main characters. Some of them might feel a bit like Malachy, but Malachy is the least tragic character in the story, and unless the jury members have ever been in love as much as Malachy, I can understand that they could not identify that well with either of them.

2. As well as their education maybe, German students learn Oxford English at school. Not all of them go on a student exchange to learn “normal, everyday” English, and only few watch films in their original versions. I do not know how good the jury’s English is, but for me (having gone to school here in Germany) it is easy to imagine that some of the scenes were quite hard to understand, especially for people with little training in hearing different accents and with a VERY different vocabulary (at least in English) compared to the one used by the teens in Cherrybomb. Cherrybomb was shown without subtitles, and it was hard enough to understand Smiley, with a very heavy accent coupled with a drunken’s mumbling, and I seriously doubt that the jury knows what the word “spitroast” implies.

Even though Cherrybomb is a film ABOUT teenagers growing up, I think it is difficult to be understood by a younger audience. Even though some younger people might enjoy it, I would give it the German rating of 16+, because of the language, and because I think that the subtle messages in the film are difficult to grasp for someone who is struggling with exactly the same things in real life.

I loved Cherrybomb – not just as a Rupert fan – and I think it is an incredible for first-time-feature directors to create such a harmonic piece of art!

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