Christopher: I ain’t afraid of shit!
Tricky: You afraid of bats?
[Both look up]
Christopher & Tricky: BATS!
This is one of many bizarre moments in Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s follow-up to Purple Rain. We’re far away from the smoky Minneapolis nightclubs and wooded forests, to a dreamy French Riviera with wealthy heiresses, schmoozing gigolos, and people named Tricky.
The story is mostly predictable: a young hustler (Prince as Christopher Tracy) and his brother (Jerome Benton as Tricky) stumble upon a young woman (newcomer Kristin Scott Thomas as Mary) as she’s about to come of age and inherit millions. They both go after her for her money, but then love comes after and obviously a triangle ensues. Her wealthy parents disapprove of the match, then the truth comes out, yadda yadda yadda.
But you don’t go to Prince movies for the story. You go for the music, and to see how “Prince” things can get. Well you’ve come to the right place.
Similar to his role as The Kid in Purple Rain, Prince is kind of a jerk but still manages to win girls over. He doesn’t take no for an answer: he pesters Mary as she’s on the phone with her real boyfriend, kidnaps her as she’s about to board a plane to New York, and even continues liaisons with other women despite being supposedly smitten by Mary. Prince comes to us from another dimension altogether, but even in this idyllic French Riviera world I don’t get why Mary went for him.
Mary herself isn’t that great though, and is a total cliché as an “heiress gone wild.” Kristin Scott Thomas does the best she can given what she was asked to do, but the otherwise enjoyable song “Girls and Boys” has been permanently seared by the image of her goofy dancing. (Skip ahead to 0:18.)
But despite its cliches, flaws, and overall silliness – something about Under the Cherry Moon works. I like the bizarre world the action goes down in. A very interesting, and not obvious, decisions was made for this to be more of a straight romantic film, not a musical. Furthermore, Prince as first-time director makes some ambitious choices: in one shot at a café, the camera is set on a tripod in the middle of the room, and does a full 1 1/2 rotations around through one continuous shot, and each table of restaurant patrons is a two-step vignette. Without spoiling, the film ends on a bittersweet note – not the happy ending you’d expect from a romantic (mostly) comedy.
And, best of all, as you’re grappling with an antitraditional ending, the camera pans up to reveal Prince and the Revolution literally floating up in the sky performing the knockout “Mountains,” featuring a driving beat, catchy horns riff, and hypnotic dance moves by Tricky and the boys.
Like Prince himself, Under the Cherry Moon defies logic and the laws of physics – but this gloppy mess somehow fits together in a dreamy universe that is creatively defined and musically resonant.