Published June 7, 2002
Pascal said that all human trouble comes from the inability of a man to sit alone at rest in a room — or, as it turns out in Finn Taylor’s Cherish, a woman either. Zoe (Robin Tunney), a young San Franciscan, has too much to drink one night and kills a bicycle policeman with her car. As she is too pretty to survive in jail, she awaits her trial for manslaughter confined to a large one-room apartment which she is prevented from leaving by an electronic monitoring device attached to her ankle. As Zoe is a bit of a party-girl and does not do very well by herself, we know at once that she is going to have to learn to “be comfortable with herself” by living alone, and so eventually to reach that therapeutic nirvana, self-esteem, from which all blessings flow.
Zoe’s inability to feel comfortable in her own company, its consequences for her inability to form “relationships” and her subsequent psychic breakthroughs might have been enough of a theme for another film-maker. Not Mr. Taylor. He has Zoe emerge from her low-rent chrysalis not as a better, wiser, more whole person, but as a Jennifer Lopez type superwoman. As in Enough, wherein Miss Lopez’s character kills her abusive husband with her bare hands — well, gloved hands — Zoe is a wronged woman. What? You didn’t think she could be guilty did you? She had only gone out to her car to get her cell phone, whereupon she had been abducted by a stalker and forced to drive into the hapless policeman. Before other police officers arrived on the scene, the stalker had slipped away, leaving her unable to prove that he had ever existed.
At the climax of the film, therefore, she is given nine hours — thanks to having made a conquest, in her new state of beatitude, of Bill Daly (Tim Blake Nelson), the police technician in charge of her monitoring device — to track down with the help of one or two exiguous clues her very own one-armed man among the seven million or so people who live in the Bay area CMSA. Whereupon, she must evade this person’s presumably murderous attentions without alerting the police, make sure that he is brought to justice and escape the infallible monitor to live a phantom existence, like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel, where no one can find her.
But wait! There’s more! Much, much more. Bill’s professional manner, for instance, when he first comes to attach her electronic anklet looks a bit up-tight to Zoe. Or “Anal Retentive” as she puts it in her charmingly San Franciscan way. Where she comes from, this is apparently like telling someone that he has bad breath. At any rate, Bill is grateful for the hint and, taking Zoe’s advice, goes to yoga class as a way of getting to be more in touch with himself. And, it should be said, less professional. But, like hers, his self-esteem goes way up.
Have you ever noticed, by the way, how pop music presents an idealized version of love that could, if looked at in the right way, be interpreted in terms of pathology and perversion? The film has something to tell us about this too, though it doesn’t really have anything to do with Zoe’s insecurities or Bill’s anal retentiveness. It takes its title from the old song by the Association that contains the line: “You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could mold you into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you.” Creepy, isn’t it? It almost makes you wonder why all oldies DJ’s don’t turn out to be stalkers.
But while you’re wondering that, this movie will long since have moved on to something else. There is so much going on here that you may even miss its one good joke. This comes right at the beginning as Zoe’s therapist (Lindsay Crouse) gently suggests that maybe her fear of being alone is the reason why she “goes out with” so many men. “I don’t feel like I go out with so many,” she replies — “if one would call me back.” I found myself liking this rather pathetic and vulnerable Zoe a lot better than the Scarlet Pimpernel version, but then you can’t have a feminist movie without some kind of apotheosis for female strength, competence, guts, heroism — all the things that women used to admire in guys instead of aspiring to them themselves. One quite understands that.