Visual Arts








What's the Film About?

Written by Jack Vero
on November 26, 2010

When you tell someone about a movie the first question they ask is "What's it about?" The promotional material forCherries and Clover says it's a story about "What happens when best friends become lovers," but that's not all it's about. It's really about the question: "What happens when a bunch of teenagers without a budget, professional aid, or prior filmmaking experience try and shoot a movie?" The answer: Cherries and Clover.

While I was writing the script, back in 2007, my classmate Jessica Devnani ("Clemmie") told me: "You know if this is going to be pro we're going to need to get lights." "Lights?" I asked. "Yeah pro sets use special lights and mics and stuff." That was news to me. The director.

Anyone with even a hint of filmmaking knowledge knows that lighting is… pretty damn important. The other thing these knowledgable filmmakers know is that the most important technical aspect of a production isn't your budget, it's the skill of your cast and crew. And this is what sets our movie apart. There are a lot of good films produced today without a budget, but not without an experienced cast and crew. The fact that we managed to pull it all together, is a testament to the power of contemporary prosumer filmmaking equipment, and the wealth of free knowledge on the internet. The internet played a pivotal role in this production, from teaching me how to use After Effects, to finding our cast (thank you Facebook). And now, during the distribution, marketing, and exhibition of the film, the internet is playing another important role as well. New exhibition platforms like Netflix and Amazon's CreateSpace offer filmmakers a direct connection to audiences, while the power of social networking sites offer free marketing alternatives to those that know how to use them.

Aside from the technical and commercial innovations this film has employed, I also consider it philosophically original. Under the guise of a happy-go-lucky teen love flick lie complex, and otherwise unmarketable philosophical undertones. Shakespeare wrote on many levels: sex and violence to attract the crowds, and poetic subtleties for those who care to find them. While this film has neither violence nor poetry, it was written in the same manner, that of having a broad romantic appeal, and implied political underpinnings for the philosophers in the crowd.

{SPOILER ALERT: The following text will reveal key elements of the plot}

Cherries and Clover is one of those films that flips the conventions of its genre on their head. It is a romance where the break up is the happy ending and the "stay-together" is the sad one. The main relationship of the film is that between Cherries and Clover, who had love, lost it, and eventually return to friendship. The subplot of the film, a relationship designed to contrast Cherries and Clover's, is Barry and Amber's. Barry and Amber never had love, they are together out of insecurity and dependency, and their strained relationship sees no advance throughout the course of the film. The contrast between the two relationships is present throughout the film, but becomes most apparent in it's climactic second last scene, where discussions about both relationships are intercut with each other. Here we can see, finally, a bright future for Cherries and Clover's relationship, and the beginning of another sad cycle from Barry and Amber's past.

I'll get at the psychological motivations behind the two couples' contrasting behavior, but first a brief foray into some of the film's symbolism.

There is an obvious color motif in Cherries and Clover, but its depth is seldom explored so I thought I should give it at least a little time here. There are seven characters in the film, the six teenagers and Mr. Whitman, and each character's personality is derived from the traits generally attributed to their given color. As the red character, Cherries is passionate, sexy, and daring, while her complementary color, Clover, the green character, is cool-headed, realistic, and reserved. Barry, the blue character, is sad and pessimistic, while his girlfriend Amber, the yellow character, is optimistic and excessively "happy." Barry's cousin Violet is the purple character, a mysterious, mystical "psychic" while Clementine ("Clemmie") is the orange, conspicuous, crazy character. Lastly there is Mr. Whitman, the white character, Clover's mentor, a symbol of wisdom and experience.

Not just the personalities, but the relationships between the characters are also based on their colors and respective position in the color wheel. Cherries and Clover make a good couple because they are complementary colors and "opposites attract," while Barry and Amber make a bad couple because they are not complementary colors. I'll leave you to figure out who "should" have been dating who.

As "the Realist," Clover's personal philosophy is positioned between that of his two friends, Barry "the Pessimist" and Amber "the Optimist," who are incidentally positioned on either side of Clover in the color wheel. As the cousin of Barry and friend of Cherries, Violet is rightfully positioned between the two, and she explictly references this in the line "My whole life seems to be a mixture of interactions between you two." She is also sewing a red and blue scarf at the time. And here's a little trivia: almost every male in the production, including myself, is color blind.

There is also an elevation motif in which happy scenes tend to take place up high (rooftops, in trees, on a fence) while sad scenes are down low (under a bridge). There are other, lesser symbolisms, but I'll leave the rest to the viewership. As for the aforementioned psychological motivations of the two couples:

I think the real difference between Cherries and Clover's relationship and Barry and Amber's is rooted in philosophy. The film portrays Optimism and Pessimism as inherently biased perspectives, as half-truths, while Realism is the full picture. Optimism is about looking on the bright side, while Pessimism is about focusing on the negatives, expecting the worst, but Realism, by my definition, is about looking at both the bright side and the dark side so as to see the full scope of things. Cherries and Clover's Realistic outlook is their saving grace, while Barry and Amber's reliance on Optimism and Pessimism is their downfall. Amber is so stubbornly optimistic that she refuses to acknowledge that her relationship has a problem, she thinks if she just keeps focusing on the bright side everything will fix itself. And Barry's pessimism leads him to believe that "nothing better is possible," so why even try?

The film's stance is simple, and it's real target here is Optimism. Few people advocate Pessimism as a great outlook on life, but Optimism is still widely celebrated. The real problem with Optimism is that it's not about seeing the reality of the situation, the truth, just the pleasant parts. It's this kind of attitude that allows people to turn a blind eye to injustice, to try and ignore an issue rather than address it. Let us not run from our problems but confront them. People are able to accomplish great things, if only they have the courage to attempt them.

The hardest thing in the world is to look in a mirror objectively. To see what is really there, rather than what we wish to see. Truth is rarely even the objective of examination, so it's no wonder we hardly ever encounter it. You get what you want in life. If Amber cared about the truth, about the reality of her relationship, she would admit its faults and fix them. But she doesn't want reality, so fortunately she won't get it. True love is impossible for the dishonest.

The thing about Cherries and Clover is that it's traditional in structure and sweet in tone, to make it appealing to a broad audience, but it's philosophical motivations are provocative on the most fundamental of levels. There are criticisms of Optimism and maybe even marriage, two fiercely guarded societal norms, two criticisms most valuable to those who will not hear them, unless they are subtly packaged in say, a romantic comedy?

The dual-layered nature of the film may seem manipulative to some, but it is motivated by the noblest and most timeless ideal we have - Truthfulness. All the conflicts of the film, whether ultimately resolved or not, are a result of personal dishonesty, of self-inflicted delusion. It is these dishonest ideologies that cause Barry and Amber's anguish, their dependency on a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship. And it is Cherries and Clover's love of Realism, or honesty, that lead to their happy demise. Let's not forget that they are teenagers! It would be absurd for them to stay together forever. Even more absurd than the notion of two adults staying together FOREVER. Love needs no contract, just as friendship doesn't, and if it fades in time we should be brave enough to admit it, so that we may part and find love elsewhere, rather than insisting it's still here.

Honesty! Realism! True conditional love! These are the pillars of the film, and of any great romance. These are the answers to the inevitable question: "What's the film about?"