Cemetery Junction ***
Directed by: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant.
Written By: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant.
Starring: Christian Cooke (Freddie Taylor), Tom Hughes (Bruce Pearson), Jack Doolan (Snork), Felicity Jones (Julie), Ricky Gervais (Mr. Taylor), Ralph Fiennes (Mr Kendrick), Matthew Goode (Mike Ramsay), Steve Speirs (Sgt. Wyn Davies), Anne Reid (Freddie's Gran), Julia Davis (Mrs Taylor), Emily Watson (Mrs Kendrick).
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are responsible for two of the greatest TV shows of the last decade - The Office and Extras. In both shows, they showed they were masters at awkward comedy – the shows that make us laugh, and yet are at times almost painful to watch because of the humiliation up there on the screen. So it comes as quite as a surprise that their first feature film together is Cemetery Junction – a sweet, funny, affable coming of age movie set in the 1970s. There are a few moments when we can see the normal style of Gervais and Merchant peaking through in the film, but overall this is a departure for them. And while it is hardly the masterwork that the short seasons of The Office or Extras were, the film deserved a better fate than being unceremoniously dumped straight to DVD in North America.
The film takes place in 1973, in the small British town of Cemetery Junction, where almost everyone works in factory. It centers on three young men in their early 20s – Freddie (Christian Cooke) wants more out of life than working alongside his father (Gervais) as a grease monkey and has become a door to door insurance salesman working for Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), a no nonsense man who came from the same neighborhood, but has made a success of himself – and looks down on everyone who hasn’t. Bruce (Tom Hughes) is a rebel without a cause (he even wears the same red jacket James Dean had), working in a factory, angry at his father who he sees as lazy, and getting into fights constantly for no real reason. The third is Snork (Jack Doolan), the lovable, pudgy loser of the group who seems to be drifting aimlessly and is happy that way.
Cemetery Junction is not really an original movie – we have seen countless filmmakers revisit their earlier years in these kind of nostalgic trips back in time. But the film is extremely well written by Gervais and Merchant – at times quite funny (Gervais and Anne Reid, who plays his mother bicker hilariously every time they are onscreen together), but overall quite poignant and charming as well. Sure, they are looking back at their past through rose colored glasses, but doesn’t everyone. They capture that real sense of impending adulthood of these three kids who don’t really want to grow up, but have to. And surrounding those three, they have a superior supporting cast – not just Fiennes, who is wonderful as a very boring, yet somewhat cruel man, but also Matthew Goode as the next Fiennes, Felicity Jones as the girl Freddie likes, despite the fact that she is Fiennes’ daughter, and Goode’s fiancée, and perhaps best of all Emily Watson as Fiennes quiet, long suffering wife who hits all the right notes.
Cemetery Junction is a step into a different terrain for Gervais and Merchant, and for the most part they pull it off. If you didn’t know it was them behind the camera, you probably would not guess it was them. I admire them for stretching, yet at the same time hope they now make a movie more in their regular vein. When you are better than pretty much everyone else in the world at something, why do something else?