Directed by: #AishaFord
Written by: #AishaFord
Cherry Lemonade is an interesting if uneven film set on a hot summer’s day in a lower-income neighbourhood. Eleven-year-old Phoenix (Eris Baker) craves a cherry lemonade slushy so, armed with the two dollars just earned from finishing her chores, she begs her brother, Kurt (Skylan Brooks), to take her to the store. When he refuses, she rides his bike there alone and crosses paths with dangerous older man Clifton (Chance Harlem Jr.). As the day goes on, Phoenix must confront some difficult truths about the lives she and her brother lead.
Director Aisha Ford says she remembers the “beauty and fun” of her childhood, but she also remembers the danger. Both are ably captured here in Angie Sciulli’s vibrant cinematography. The slushy Phoenix fixates on and the uniforms worn by two recurring cheerleaders are bright red, highlighting her desires – both simple (a sweet treat) and more complex (the lives of the privileged popular girls) – while simultaneously hinting at the coming danger. In the daylight, the summer heat is palpable, and as Phoenix’s day goes on, the growing dusk adds real menace.
Baker and Brooks’ chemistry sells the sibling relationship, from the playful conflict to the far more real; from his protectiveness to her rebellion. As the film opens, Kurt is trying to teach Phoenix how to fight. She is uninterested, dismissive, and while there is a playful air to Kurt’s insistence, it becomes clear that he is deeply invested. He needs her to learn, but at the same time he knows that this alone will not be enough to keep her safe. This leads him to make an unwise, but understandable, decision. Their relationship forms the bedrock of the film, and the actors’ respective performances make for a stable foundation.
What feels less stable is the story. The dialogue is strong, and the atmosphere crackles, but the narrative leaves something to be desired. A subplot with Kurt’s bike, for example, seems only to be included to confuse the audience. The dilemma it introduces is strong, and the visible care Phoenix takes to look after it helps amplify the desperation of the scene, but its conclusion makes little to no sense. On top of this, Harlem Jr.’s turn as Clifton begins promisingly, as his blaring car radio announces his arrival, and he looms behind Phoenix at the corner store, but his menace fizzles out, and by the film’s closing, his role in the story feels far less impactful than the siblings’.
However, the film does have something important to say about the precarious balance between protection and violence. Kurt is older than Phoenix; he would rather play football with his friends than go shopping with his sister. Still, he wants to protect her and knows it would be impossible to be there for her all the time. His solution is to teach her to fight, and to search for extra protection elsewhere. Here, it is clear to see how easily young girls cross paths with dangerous men, and how sometimes these dangerous men are the ones meant to keep them safe.
In the end, Cherry Lemonade’s strong performances, vivid atmosphere, and interesting themes give it just enough weight to balance out the weaker plot points.