cherish (2002)


director: finn taylor

robin tunney, tim blake nelson, jason priestley

Finn Taylor’s Cherish starts off with the undeniable premise that the romantic pop songs so pivotal to young single people are usually tales of obsession, such as the giddy, saccharine 1960s hit by the Association that gives his film its title.

Zoe, his protagonist, is one of thousands of skilled drones working in San Francisco’s anxious but lucrative high tech sector, a pretty girl whose mass of quirks and painful social awkwardness would be a liability anywhere else but in the digital industries. Robin Tunney plays Zoe as a garish wallflower whose obsession with Andrew, the office Lothario (Jason Priestley as a limply foppish sleazeball) verges on stalkerdom. It’s a situation based on the crazed, near-psychotic world of twentysomething singles, a nightmare funhouse caricature of the clique-filled world of high school that young people think they’ve escaped, disguised as it is by having even fewer rules and a far larger population. It’s would, on its own, have been fascinating material for the film that Cherish, sadly, isn’t.

Zoe hooks up with Andrew one night at an after-work bar, and things seem to be heading for the next level when she’s kidnapped by her own stalker, who forces her to run over a bicycle cop, then disappears. Her lawyer (Nora Dunn) knows she won’t survive in jail, so she arranges for Zoe to enter a house arrest program, confined to a run-down loft by an electronic bracelet maintained by Daly, a lonely, dweebish county deputy played by Tim Blake Nelson. It’s obvious enough that Daly and Zoe will fall for each other, but it’s a mark of Tunney and Nelson’s considerable talents that the long lead-up to their first kiss is both believable and carefully measured.

Cherish began as a character study, and it's as a character study that it succeeds - Zoe’s almost autistic obsession with AM pop (“Tainted Love”, “Happy Together”, “I’m Not in Love” - at least the producers knew the soundtrack will probably move a few units) and the way that confinement forces her to transform herself is the heart of the film, so much so that when she decides to find her stalker and clear her name, the entirely satisfying film we’ve been watching for most of an hour evaporates, leaving a cursory and poorly-concluded thriller in its place.