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Cherish This

The movie works despite the annoying title song.

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I would unabashedly give Cherish a purely positive review if it weren't for the fact that the title song (the old Association classic from the '60s) is now permanently stuck in my head. As a result, about two-thirds of my thoughts now consist solely of the musical words "cherish me as much as I cherish you."

"Cherish," though, is far from the worst song in the soundtrack to this film. It also includes such monstrosities as the Hall and Oates hits "She's Gone" and "Private Eyes," the aural assault "I Love You," by the ironically named Climax Blues Band, and everyone's most dreaded AM radio moment, "I'm Not In Love," by the tonal criminals in 10cc.

If you can get past that, though, Cherish could be one of the smartest romantic comedies in years. Not like the competition is fierce, but still.

What sets Cherish apart from other zany romantic comedies is that in this one, the stalker is actually a deranged psychopath whose obsession with the female lead produces dangerous and unpleasant situations. OK, that doesn't set it apart, but what does is that she doesn't think that his criminal behavior is sweet and endearing, and she doesn't fall in love with him.

In fact, when he engages in the charming and cinematically honored pastime of attempting to kidnap his beloved, he winds up causing a car crash that kills a young police officer. Shockingly, the film doesn't think of this development as a hilarious premise that's sure to have audiences rolling in the aisles.

Instead, when the stalker flees the scene before police arrive, a dazed Zoe Adler (Robin Tunney) is left to take the blame. After Zoe is beaten while in police custody, her lawyer (Nora Dunn) gets her released into the "bracelet program," which involves attaching a radio to her ankle so that she can't go further than 57 feet from the center of her apartment.

Now, watching someone confined to a dingy apartment for 90 minutes is not usually a recipe for cinematic success, but it works in Cherish largely due to the intelligence of the script and the strength of Robin Tunney's performance. If being a star was based on one's acting talent, Tunney would be a star. Sadly, being a star has more to do with dancing around in one's underwear, which is why Cameron Diaz is a star. Of course, that's also why Dennis Franz is a star, but I'd rather not get that image stuck in my head again.

Tunney is well supported in Cherish by the ubiquitous Tim Blake Nelson, whose Deputy Dawg-style face lands him mostly broad comic roles. In Cherish he doesn't exactly get to break out of his mold, but his character at least has the depth to be aware of his physical limitations.

Fans of early-mid-'90s underground feminist alt-folk-rock (and who isn't a fan of early-mid-'90s underground feminist alt-folk-rock?) will be pleased to see early-mid-'90s underground feminist alt-folk-rock legend Liz Phair make her acting debut in Cherish. Phair shows excellent comic timing as Zoe's jealous and bitchy co-worker.

While the acting is uniformly good, it's also Cherish's capacity to mix humor and drama that makes it work. The comedy in Cherish is based on the unintentionally amusing things that people might actually say, rather than the standard Hollywood formula of set up and punch line. As such, it never disrupts the natural feel of the film.

On top of its comic and dramatic aspects, Cherish includes a more standard "thriller" plot, wherein the lead character must escape from her imprisonment in order to clear her name. While this could have been entirely trite (and it is a little trite) it doesn't lead to a pat and neat ending, and so winds up escaping somewhat from the formula.

It's unlikely that Cherish will find a wide audience, as it doesn't fit easily into any of the standard cinematic categories, and it's style borrows too much from European cinema's slow pace and emphasis on natural (i.e. not purely heroic) characters. Still, I was at no point bored or uninterested while viewing it, and, as someone who watches approximately 247 films a week, I find that that's unusual. In sum, I would say that it's one of those rare films that you don't need to be drunk to enjoy.

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