Making a movie is not easy. A director must balance telling the story he or she wants the audience to experience with the logistics of dealing with a crew, actors, budgets, locations and myriad other headaches that come into play before, during and after production. For that reason, the work of first-time directors can be difficult to critique because the sheer fact alone that he or she was able to complete a feature-length film is impressive. However, that can only excuse so much. Stephen Elliott, best known as a writer and blogger, makes his debut as a director and screenwriter with About Cherry, a harmless yet unnecessary story about the acidic world of online pornography production. 

In order to escape her alcoholic mother and possibly abusive stepfather, Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) ditches her small California town to explore the glamorous world of San Francisco. Her chauffer and platonic friend, Andrew (Dev Patel), is along for the ride because 1) he’s worried about her safety, and 2) he’s ridiculously in love with her. Angelina takes a job as a waitress at a strip club where she meets Francis (James Franco), a lawyer who lavishes her with expensive gifts and nights out on the town.   

Waitressing isn’t paying enough, so Angelina decides to try her hand at shooting online pornography, having previously shot a few nude pictures after being coaxed by a former boyfriend. Though she is nervous at first about doing a solo video, one of the directors, Margaret (Heather Graham), puts her worries at ease. Margaret takes more than a professional interest in Angelina (now calling herself Cherry), and the two begin a flirtatious relationship. Meanwhile, Francis has become more withdrawn and neglectful for seemingly no reason. To make matters worse, Angelina’s mom (Lily Taylor) comes to visit without warning and threatens to expose how Angelina is supporting herself in San Francisco. 

Unable to settle on a consistent tone or style, About Cherry amounts to little more than a series of vaguely connected vignettes, none of which significantly affect any other. Elliott and his writing partner Lorelei Lee have both worked in the world of sex service and/or pornography themselves, so one would assume About Cherry would expose some unknown truth about the industry (positive or negative) instead of regurgitating stereotypes and caricatures we have seen time and time again. There are no real characters in the movie, just mainstays that are so easily recognizable as to be almost annoying. 

About Cherry doesn’t reveal anything new about the world of porn, but instead reinforces many assumptions people already have about men and women who choose to do it. Angelina comes from a broken home, has possibly been molested, is a high school dropout and is introduced to the idea of taking nude pictures by a smooth-talking boyfriend. Why can’t Angelina be a well-adjusted, intelligent young woman who just happens to find an attraction to the incredibly lucrative world of pornography? Are we, in 2012, still so Puritanical that we can only imagine pornography being a legitimate life path for girls with severe mental or emotional trauma? 

The film’s only redeeming quality is Hinshaw who gives an outstanding performance. Throwing herself into the part with a commitment and passion rarely seen, Hinshaw elevates the film above the level of mere dribble. Hinshaw is incredibly beautiful to be sure, but her performance is effective due to the strong emotional core she gives Angelina (despite the poor script she was given). It will be exciting to see her career grow after her truly wonderful work in this film. 

About Cherry is at best a mediocre debut from a first-time director. With too many problems to count, it never manages to coalesce into anything of substance and relies too heavily on empty characters and asinine plot points.