directed by Finn Taylor
(Fine Line, 2002)

I'm not quite sure where to peg Cherish, a film that's part comedy, part thriller, with a little bit of Twin Peaks-style dancing thrown in for good measure. The soundtrack alone would have been enough for me (though it would make my husband shudder): '80s pop at its best, from "Tainted Love" to "I'm Not In Love" (remember Soft Cell and 10cc?). Another plus was the first movie role for singer Liz Phair.

But what really made Cherish (named for the song by The Association) stand out was that it's like very little else I've seen this year. Even when it's at its most derivative, it's still doing something new with what it's got.

Sometimes it's too much. But when it works, it works well.

Robin Tunney (Vertical Limit) is Zoe, a young office worker who vacillates wildly between being tongue-tied and nervous chatter. She has a little too much to drink at the office party and takes up her hunky co-worker's offer for a ride home. But as she heads out alone to her car to get her cell phone, she's carjacked by a guy we soon realize has been stalking her. He knows the music she likes, and in a creepy aside, turns up her radio and tells her to let the music calm her down.

The carjacker orders Zoe to drive and, her three martinis blurring her vision and slowing her reflexes, she hits and kills a police officer -- and her stalker bails out, leaving her passed out on her airbag and a dead officer in the middle of the street.

Zoe's attorney holes her up, on house arrest, in a warehouse apartment on a seedy side of town and Zoe's left, until the trial, to ponder what, exactly, she can do to clear her name. Her only contacts are the guy who lives downstairs, the kids who roam the streets outside and Bill Daly, the guy who comes to check the ankle bracelet that ties her electronically to her apartment.

And it's here, when Zoe and Bill meet up, that Cherish really begins to take on the aura that sets it apart.

As played by Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Bill is uptight, retentive and unhappy. In Zoe, who at first annoys him and soon attracts him, he's found someone unlike anyone else in his world. And in Bill, Zoe may find someone who can earn the trust she so easily places in people.

Cherish has some clumsy moments, but none of them involve Zoe and Bill. The transparency of Nelson's performance ranks up there with some of this year's best, and the evolution of Tunney's goes beyond what she's had a chance to do so far.

There's a little bit of Play Misty For Me in Cherish, a little Run, Lola, Run, a little Lolita-style posing and a little of the creepiness that was Twin Peaks' trademark -- one scene gives a whole new uncomfortable twist to a nice, poppy Hall & Oates song. The ending is almost an afterthought, tacked on to Zoe's beat-the-clock effort to stalk her stalker, to find evidence that will pin him to the hit-and-run.

But it's not nearly enough to dull what Nelson does with his time as Bill, and what he and Tunney, in their cat-and-mouse way, build together.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 10 May 2003

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