DIR/WRI: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant • PRO: Sue Baden-Powell, Ricky Gervais, Charlie Hanson, Stephen Merchant • DOP: Remi Adefarasin • ED: Valerio Bonelli • DES: Anna Higginson • CAST: Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Felicity Jones
Those who despaired at Ricky Gervais’ previous almost-a-good-movie The Invention of Lying felt a tad more comfortable at the re-instatement of Stephen Merchant as co-conspirator for Cemetery Junction. The force that brought us endless nights of TV chuckles would surely transcend the banality of Gervais’ previous attempts at big-screen triumph, and create a movie worth watching. That they chose not to wallow in past glories and simply create a big-screen comedy in the lines of The Office et al shows a maturing of comedic and artistic creativity that can only mean bigger and better things to come.
Cemetery Junction is not a masterpiece, and nor is it original in either concept or execution. Small-town ruffians hoping to leave their estates, and transcend their ordinary beginnings to leave their mark on the world, is well-trodden ground. However, it has all the seeds of promise and enough entertainment combined with quality scripting and acting to make it an eminently watchable movie. The script is obviously a labour of love, and revisits the scenes of Gervais’ earlier commentary on getting caught (and run over) in the treadmill of life; Reading. Here we meet Freddie, Bruce and Snork, each playing standard roles of 1970’s inert youth – apart from Freddie, who has been employed recently as a life insurance salesman. Freddie (Christian Cooke) works for Mr. Kendrick, played with bastardly delight by Ralph Fiennes, a man who once lived in the dead-end titular Cemetery Junction, but has ‘made good’. Freddie at first aspires to his lifestyle, but begins to question it all as he is faced with his boss’s ghost-like wife (Emily Watson) and enthusiastically mercenary protégé Mike (Matthew Goode). Into the mix also enters old-flame Julie, who also happens to be both Mr. Kendrick’s daughter and fiancée to the dismissive Mike. Whilst Freddie struggles with the question of what to do with his life, not wanting to end up in the factory like his Dad (played by Gervais) or best friend Bruce, matters begin to come to a head of their own volition. Bruce is a fiery young rebel, achingly angry at everything around him – Tom Hughes plays the role perfectly, a fantastic mix of Francis Begbie and Russell Brand, and brings heart to an otherwise stale role. Indeed, the acting lifts a very good script into sounding great – though there are jarring moments as an obvious ‘Gervais-ism’ is spoken by Fiennes or others, drawing attention to the strings behind the story.
The music jollies everything along – as you would expect from a soundtrack of the ’70s – and the bright story and brighter visuals make it a real feel-good movie. Whilst lacking in originality, it makes up for it in spades by delivering a smile-inducing film braced with chuckles, and surprisingly tender scenes. Tom Hughes in particular brings a depth to his role that may not have been immediately visible on paper. His interaction with his alcoholic father, a brilliantly understated performance by Francis Magee, catches you short in the middle of laughing, almost reaching the kitchen-sink realism of customary factory-life fare, and certainly leaving a lump in your throat.
Whilst not the magnum opus we might have expected from this pairing, it is a very solid foundation for better things. Cracks might be visible, but hopefully these will be patched up for future ventures, and we will continue to see great things from this pairing. Though lacking in freshness and grating at times, Cemetery Junction is nonetheless a truly enjoyable piece of work – a by-the-book feel-good movie that delivers on giggles, if not on story.
(See biog here)
FCO for details)
Cemetary Junction is released 16th April 2010