NetFlix Review #25: Under the Cherry Moon

Well, I'm going to make some enemies here, so let's be done with it.

First, and most ashamedly, I'm not huge on Prince. I like a few of his songs, but overall I find him and a lot of his work a headache-inducing combination of a pretentious artist provocateur and that girl from high school who was waaaaay too into musical theater. And frankly, that dualism has never been more apparent than in Under the Cherry Moon, a movie I honestly cannot imagine anyone taking seriously, even as a joke.

In the movie Prince plays a gigolo in the French Riviera. Prince's Christopher Tracy and his brother/friend/partner/lover/unsure Tricky (Jerome Benton, one of Prince's musicians) hop from woman to woman wooing, seducing, grifting and then leaving. However, Christopher finds that something changes when he goes after a young heiress Mary Sharon, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Has love finally come to hustler Christopher Tracy?

Yes, but not from Kristin Scott Thomas. One of the film's many problems is that the love triangle between Christopher, Tricky and Mary seems irrelevant because Mary cannot seem to illicit half the passion from Christopher or Tricky that they lather on each other. Some people seem to believe that this was Prince wanting to play up the questions about his sexuality, but even if that is so it's done at great expense to the film. I don't know if I've ever seen a gayer couple in cinema, and I've seen Brokeback Mountain, Shortbus AND Top Gun.

The attraction to Mary seems perfunctory, which is astounding because Kristin Scott Thomas looks GORGEOUS and acts with the energy and tenaciousness of an extraordinary talent being given her first chance to shine, which is exactly what was happening. How could you NOT be attracted to her? And yet I don't believe for a second that either Christopher or Tricky would give up what they claim they would to be with her. It also doesn't help that Christopher and Mary never meet as equals, never actually get to know each other in any meaningful way. They fall in love the way 12-year-olds do. She's the smoking hot prettiest girl in the room, he's the loudmouth bad boy who upsets daddy, they drive around in a cool car that has a license plate that says "LOVE" and listen to music and sometimes they totally call each other on the phone and don't even talk they just lay in bed and listen to each other can you believe it that's so romantic OMG it's just like a moooooviiieeeee!!!!!! Perhaps one of the greatest annoyances here is that I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Prince would be infatuated with anyone nearly as much as he's infatuated with Prince.

Nothing here feels real or earnest, which is problematic when you're making a love story. Nothing is based off of actual, observed human behavior, everything is gutted from other movies and bought wholesale, then cobbled together. A movie can be as fantastical as it wants, but it has to be based around real characters interacting in a somewhat believable way. There must be an internal reality. The only internal reality within the film is that Prince is FABULOUS!!! To the movie's credit, it does somewhat sustain that reality, and I suppose your level of enjoyment comes with how far you feel that reality can take you. It would have been a fine music video, but for an hour and a half, it's overplayed, overstayed and underwhelming.

I'll give the film credit where it's due. The movie looks fantastic. Michael Ballhaus did the cinematography, and his long list of credits, including a number of Scorsese films and Francis Ford Coppola's (one of my favorite visual movies) speak to a talent hefty enough to make a movie look better than it has any right to. Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant to watch. She's funny, flirty and dead sexy. She's since poo-pooed the movie, proclaiming it pretty much garbage, which furthers my belief that she's a sensible, intelligent woman. And I will say that the music is enjoyable, especially Prince's possible high water mark, "Kiss."

I will also concede that I found the movie hypnotically watchable. Emily will disagree vehemently, as she got so bored she stopped watching about halfway through, but I found the whole thing oddly mind-boggling. Who greenlit this movie? What do the people who love it see in it? How does Prince exude such a heightened air of sexuality while still also seeming entirely and completely sexless? What would the movie have looked like if Prince hadn't fired the original director and took over directing duties himself? What could it possibly be like to act opposite Prince, especially for Kristin Scott Thomas? It's definitely not much like anything else you've ever seen, for good and for ill.

So I call out to you, Prince fanatics! Why, WHY is this movie cinematic gold? Do I simply lack the Prince gene? I have, inconceivably enough, never seen Purple Rain, is it possible I'd like it more? Weigh in!

(Spoiler From the Future: Saw Purple Rain at a friends house. Better than Under the Cherry Moon, but not by much. Sorry, Prince.)

Jake Thomas

Story Writer. Marvel Comics Editor. Wrangler of Squids.