Editor’s note: With movie theaters closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Micheal Compton’s reviews will focus on films available for streaming or on demand.
It’s been four years since Prince passed away, a death that left a large creative hole in the entertainment industry.
Fans, myself included, still mourn his passing but are comforted by the vast amount of music he left behind.
Prince, who would have turned 62 on Sunday, also dipped his toes into films – making four movies. “Purple Rain” is the film that catapulted the singer into super stardom, and “Sign O’ the Times” is a concert film that captured Prince at the height of his popularity (We’ll be nice and just skip “Graffiti Bridge”).
But it was 1986’s “Under the Cherry Moon” that showed audiences something more than Prince the musician. The follow-up to “Purple Rain” and Prince’s directorial debut was largely dismissed at the time. In the 34 years since its release, “Cherry Moon” has (justly) gained a cult following – particularly after Prince’s 2016 death – with audiences finally seeing the film for what it was, a delightfully offbeat romantic comedy that showcased the silly side of Prince.
In “Under the Cherry Moon,” Prince plays Christopher Tracy, a conman who makes his living swindling rich women in the French Riviera with his partner Tricky (Jerome Benton from The Time).
Christopher and Tricky decide to take it to another level, targeting Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott Thomas making her feature film debut), a 21-year-old set to inherit $50 million from her father (Steven Berkoff) if she agrees to an arranged marriage.
The plot to romance Mary for money becomes something more when Christopher begins to fall for the young woman – willing to put behind his old life to start anew with her.
Filmed in black and white in France, Prince was clearly going for this glitzy throwback to 1940s cinema that embraced that era while providing a fresh modern-day spin – including an eclectic soundtrack that include the No. 1 smash “Kiss.”
The result is something that is both beautiful (Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography is exquisite) and bizarre – a screwball comedy where Prince and Benton gleefully ham it up for the camera. Their interaction is peppered with funny moments and off-the-wall situations – including an attempt to bring Mary into “their world” that ends with one of the film’s signature jokes.
Berkoff also has fun as the billionaire protagonist who is constantly micro-managing his daughter’s life.
I’ll admit Prince’s direction is a little too polished at times and he has better chemistry with Benton than Thomas, which is a slight problem when the film takes a serious turn in the third act. But those shortcomings are easy to overlook because “Under the Cherry Moon” never takes itself too seriously – embracing its goofiness in a way few films can.
That goofiness allows the audience to see Prince at his most playful. It’s a side of the musician we rarely got to see – and I wish we could have seen more.