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Tracking Zoe 'Cherish' is an interesting indie

Friday, July 12, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Lyrics to the 1960s song "Cherish" by The Association take on a whole new meaning in the movie of the same name.


RATING: R for language

STARRING: Robin Tunney

DIRECTOR: Finn Taylor

WEB SITE: www.cherishthemovie.com



"... You don't know how many times I've wished that I could hold you. 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."

Sounds entirely different when you hear the words and watch a stalker photographing the object of his obsession. That would be Zoe Adler (Robin Tunney), a 29-year-old computer animator who habitually calls a San Francisco radio station to request sugary love songs, who cannot stand to be alone in her new condo and who is excluded from co-workers' plans to go clubbing.

She shows up anyway and spends the evening with a handsome colleague (Jason Priestley). When he offers her a ride home, she goes to her car to retrieve her cellphone and is surprised by a stranger who muscles his way inside. If that isn't horrifying enough, he forces her auto to plow into and kill a bicycle cop.

The intruder flees, and a drunken Zoe is arrested. No one believes her kidnapping story, and she's placed under house arrest -- given an electronic bracelet and shunted into a loft apartment in a dicey neighborhood -- until her trial.

If Zoe moves outside the prescribed area, her bracelet will trigger an alarm. When she tries to remove the cuff, she earns herself 15 daily phone calls, designed to ensure she is where she should be. The cops, especially Deputy Bill Daly (Tim Blake Nelson) whose job it is to monitor the equipment, have thought of everything.

Zoe tries to amuse herself and make peace with the neighbors, even as Daly develops a crush on her. As the trial nears, her efforts escalate to beat the system (and the rap) and prove the carjacker exists.

"Cherish," now at the Squirrel Hill Theater, has the challenge of setting a movie largely within an uninteresting space; this is no 1879 brownstone, as in "Panic Room," but a loft that could use an HGTV makeover. Even more formidable is forcing Tunney to be alone often on screen -- sometimes staring into space, contemplating the "date I lost my life."

Zoe undergoes physical and emotional changes during her confinement, which takes an unexpected but overdue turn by the end. After lagging and dragging, the movie picks up speed as it hurtles to its conclusion.

Writer-director Finn Taylor shot this independent feature in 28 days in Berkeley and San Francisco. He got the idea after meeting a former participant in San Francisco's electronic bracelet program. It is rather fascinating to learn some of the minutiae and how sophisticated the tracking devices have become.

Although "Cherish" imaginatively uses music (a couple dances to "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks, and Hall & Oates emerge as singers to stalk and sulk by), it shortchanges Zoe's life before the accident. The arc of her character would feel more complete if we knew more about her law-abiding life before the arrest.

Still, Taylor assembled a nifty cast with some unexpected faces in small roles. Tunney and the sincere Nelson, the dingbat convict in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" are joined by Liz Phair as a snooty officemate, Nora Dunn as a lawyer, Lindsay Crouse as a barely seen therapist and the excellent Ricardo Gil as Zoe's gay neighbor, a dwarf who uses a wheelchair.

If not exactly a movie to cherish, it is a movie -- and, especially, moviemaker -- to watch.

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