Cemetery Junction, 2010.
Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
Starring Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Julia Davis and Ricky Gervais.
A British coming-of-age comedy set in the not-so-swinging '70s.
In 1970s Reading, three friends, Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) split their time between chasing girls, working in a factory and spending the night in the local police cell. Fully aware that their home town isn’t a hotspot for hope and opportunity, the boys dream of a more fulfilling future – whether it’s Bruce’s ambitions to travel the world or Freddie’s aspiration to raise a family in a beautiful, expensive home with a Rolls Royce parked on the driveway. Whilst Bruce’s globe-trotting fantasy barely gets beyond a daydream, Freddie tries to get closer to his imaginary money pile by taking on a new job as a door-to-door insurance salesman, working for the highly successful but equally sinister Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes). When Freddie is reunited with his high school sweetheart, Julie (Felicity Jones), who just happens to be Kendrick’s daughter and inconveniently engaged to her father’s Number Two, Mike (Matthew Goode), both Freddie and his friends begin to realise that they might need to follow a slightly different path in order to find their way to freedom and success.
Because I am quite an irrationally stubborn individual and am very reluctant to change my hasty opinions once I have formed them, it is quite rare that I will be completely won over by and in awe of a film that throughout its first twenty minutes had me wondering whether or not it would be too late, and too humiliating, to go and beg the good people of Cineworld for a refund for my £12.25 ticket. Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s film debut as a writer/director duo however, is one such rarity.
Cemetery Junction opens with some sepia-toned establishing shots of Reading that are slightly nauseating and look like they should have Edvard Greig’s ‘Morning’ accompanying them on the soundtrack. This is shortly followed by an introduction to several cardboard cut-out characters that crack a few corny jokes – the content of which made me slightly apprehensive as to what the rest of the film’s humour was going to be like, including when Bruce tells Freddie to ‘Stop listening to music made by poofs – stick on some Elton John!’ Yes we get it, coz like it’s funny coz they’re in the past and we’re in the future, so we know stuff that they don’t. Ha-di-ha.
However, after twenty minutes of teeth clenching and eye-rolling, the film quite miraculously turned itself around and ultimately revealed itself to be a genuinely moving and often very funny portrayal of three lads who are trapped by their uninspiring home town and frustrated by the dreams that seem so agonisingly out of reach. The film is full of those small yet poignant Office/Extras-esque moments that could end up looking cheesy or cliché in the hands of any other director, but are so well written and directed by Gervais and Merchant they always come across as tender and identifiable. I’d already been warned that Emily Watson’s performance as Mr Kendrick’s long-suffering wife would bring a lump to my throat, but there were also several other occasions in the film – particularly the scenes between the defiant Bruce and his world-weary father - that had me desperately trying to disguise my embarrassing, whimpering sniffles from other cinema-goers sat in close proximity.
Of course the warmth and authenticity behind these moments is not only due to the writing and directing but also down to a set of outstanding performances. Cemetery Junction is impeccably acted by every cast member; Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan in particular manage to bring life to three essentially quite stereotypical characters – the sensible one, the rebel and the clown - and skilfully steer away from cliché to give us realistic, honest and enjoyable performances.
Before I’d seen the film I’d heard Ricky Gervais say in an interview that it’s probably less of a comedy than people might expect, so I was quite surprised when I found myself chuckling away on numerous occasions throughout the movie – and not just when Gervais is on the screen in his small role as Freddie’s father. It was probably intended to be less of a comedy than his last feature The Invention of Lying but is actually a lot funnier, more skilfully crafted and is a far more credible film in general – which perhaps suggests that Gervais needs Stephen Merchant to keep him on the right track.
Cemetery Junction is a well-measured fusion of both heart-warming and heart-breaking. Any moments that appear to be straying into over-sentimental territory are quickly rescued by the writer/director duo bringing warmth and reality to the characters and their situations. It is a highly enjoyable film, which avoids seeming too far-fetched in its unabashed optimism and is instead a charming and refreshing coming-of-age tale.
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