Under the Cherry Moon (1986)
UNDER THE CHERRY MOON
Review by Gnoll
In 1984, Prince created a cult classic in Purple Rain. Two years later, he decided to follow it up with a nod to 1930’s screwball comedies set on the French Riviera, and got a tepid response. He did, however, manage to introduce to the world a future Oscar nominee in the process, and even got to call her “Cabbagehead”.
Under the Cherry Moon is the tale of two scheming lotharios who crash parties in order to meet women. One of the men meets and unwittingly falls for a beautiful young girl who not only happens to be the daughter of a powerful man, but is also engaged to a real creep. The girl gets in between the two friends, but they eventually make up. Yes, it’s the plot of The Wedding Crashers, but at the end of this one, somebody dies.
Prince plays Christopher Tracy, which also happens to be one of his pseudonymys (he wrote the Bangles’ “Manic Monday” as simply “Christopher”), and his sidekick Tricky is played by Jerome Benton (the guy from The Time whose credits are listed as “Mirror and holler vocals”). The future Oscar nominee is Kristin Scott Thomas, who makes her film debut here as Mary Sharon; her father is played by veteran character actor Steven Berkoff in all his villainous glory. Nobody else you’ve ever heard of shows up.
Prince makes his directing debut here, although that wasn’t the plan. Initially, music video director Mary Lambert was tapped to direct, but she reportedly stepped on Prince’s toes one time too many and he fired her. And trust me, that’s not hard to do, because he’s a really short dude. Prince did retain Academy Award winning Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who helps the film look as stunning as it does. In fact, despite Prince’s dream of a black & white film, it was initially shot in color due to Warner Bros.’ stubbornness, only to be printed in its intended black & white.
Although most critics gave Purple Rain a positive review, they didn’t warm up to this followup. That’s a shame, though, because it’s a unique little film and is a lot of fun. The script is silly and the characterization is thin, but that’s part of why it works. Christopher and Tricky have this goofy relationship that involves them doing things together as personal as bathing, but it’s too playful to ever seem homoerotic. They’re like two kids having fun and being to innocent to know any better, despite the fact that Christopher works as a gigolo. The film alternates between looking like it’s taking itself seriously and acting like it’s in on the joke. Prince hasn’t improved in leaps and bounds as an actor since Purple Rain, but at least his character is extroverted and lively here. He also gets to trade some of the silliest insults ever heard outside of a school playground with both Thomas and Benton, which leads to some of the film’s funnier moments.
Although the film appears as an homage to the past, it’s full of anachronisms that peg it as a modern tale. Even the musical numbers suggest that it’s having fun with time periods, because while much of the soundtrack is heavily influenced by old standards, a large part of it rides along the 80’s new wave and funk paths that Prince had become synonymous with. In fact, Parade, the soundtrack to this film, is probably my favorite Prince album of all time, and I’m one of those guys who celebrates just about his entire catalog. It’s a crime that “Sometimes it Snows in April” wasn’t nominated for Best Original Song at the 1987 Oscars, because it’s a beautiful little number that tops off the already awesome soundtrack.
I will admit that I recently re-watched this movie after not seeing it for a good fifteen years and didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did when I was in my early teens and at the peak of my Prince worship. But you can probably chalk that up to me being a bitter overworked grump nowadays who is usually trying to find things wrong with movies because the bad ones are more fun to write about. But as I sit here, I can’t think of what those bad things about Under the Cherry Moon are. And when I ask others the same, the only thing that they can usually come up with is “It’s not Purple Rain“.
And they’re right. It’s not Purple Rain.
It’s even better.