18 April 2010

Movie Review: Cemetery Junction


Cemetery Junction
2010, 95mins, 15
Director (s): Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Writer (s): Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Cast includes: Christian Cooke, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hughes, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson, Ricky Gervais, Jack Doolan, Matthew Goode
UK Release Date: 14th April 2010

Following the massive success of their television work, it was only a matter of time before Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant teamed up to make a movie together. Gervais co-directed the underappreciated “The Invention of Lying” last year with Matthew Robinson, but “Cemetery Junction” marks the first big directorial gig for Merchant; and more importantly the duo’s first work together since TV’s “Extras”. “Cemetery Junction” is a highly engaging drama, and a delightful change in direction for Gervais and Merchant. “Cemetery Junction” is a completely different project from any of the pairs past works, and shows that the men can handle heart-warming drama as competently as they do comedy. “Cemetery Junction” is perhaps a shade too lightweight for it to be considered a truly great picture, but it’s a remarkably confident and entertaining foray none the less.

The film opens in 1973, in the small English town of Cemetery Junction. Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) are three friends in their early twenties, each with different perspectives on their current lives. Freddie has just been employed by a high profile life insurance firm in a bid to avoid the same factory grind that his father (Ricky Gervais) has to endure. Bruce is enchanted with the idea of leaving Cemetery Junction but makes no active effort to do so, spending his days fighting, chatting up girls and disrespecting his own drunkard father. Snork is the goofiest of the trio, and thinks that as long as Freddie and Tom are around he’ll be fine. Freddie feels that the firm offers him hope of the big house, fast car and loving family that he one day wants, the head of the company Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) providing him with a rags to riches role model. However Freddie begins to understand that in this business morals are second to sales; and as he slowly falls for his bosses ambitious (and soon to be married) daughter Julie (Felicity Jones), Freddie begins to suspect that leaving Cemetery Junction might be the only way to get what he truly wants.

“Cemetery Junction” is a cosy feature, a coming of age tale with charm and wit to spare. The film is far more interested in spinning out a credibly dramatic story than making audiences laugh, meaning that a transition in expectation is necessary for the movie to be truly effective. Viewers’ wanting the cringe-tastic comedy beats of “The Office” and “Extras” might be a tad disappointed, but those looking for a beautifully shot and well rounded dramatic composition are likely to get exactly what they want. “Cemetery Junction” feels like a more personal and possibly even autobiographical endeavour, Merchant and Gervais having given their characters and screenplay a very human soul.

“Cemetery Junction” feels like a theatrical experience, it’s an unusually polished and visually gorgeous British film. Gervais and Merchant have basked the movie in a lovely golden glow, and clearly have gone to some lengths in making the product look good. Coupled with the impressively involving story the cinematography makes “Cemetery Junction” seem like a proper cinematic experience, from an aesthetic standpoint it’s definitely a superior motion picture to “The Invention of Lying”. Cemetery Junction never appears to be as grim a place as some of its inhabitants suggest, the script leaving each character to express their personal disdain rather than depicting the location as a hell on earth. Quirks like this provide the film with an added dose of dimensionality, and allow each screen presence to grow as an individual, rather than as a faceless group rallying against the same thing. Gervais and Merchant make it clear that it’s not the place, but rather what it represents which fuels our heroes’ thoughts and desires.

The film packs a respectable emotional punch, the screenplay’s various arcs all robustly effective and well written. Each character is engaging and nicely thought out; “Cemetery Junction” is thankfully devoid of clichés. The romantic aspect involving Freddie and Julie is never overly adventurous, but it is undoubtedly graceful and honest. Watching the three leading characters grow within the film is a rewarding experience, and thanks to smart dialogue and creative characterization it’s also consistently enjoyable. “Cemetery Junction” is chiefly interested in Freddie and Bruce (Snork is simply an oafish home bird who can’t get a girlfriend), and it handles the two unique arcs with skill and a good measure of emotional depth. The film avoids becoming sickeningly sweet but it does want to be upbeat and lively; Gervais and Merchant balancing these duel aims securely.

Christian Cooke and Tom Hughes are excellent in “Cemetery Junction”, providing the picture with the adolescent swagger and angst it really demands. Cooke is a lovable lead whilst Hughes puts in an affecting and rebellious turn as the anti-hero. If the pair can carry future films as comfortably as they do “Cemetery Junction” then they have bright careers ahead of them. Jack Doolan is primarily deployed as comic relief and takes a backseat to Hughes and Cooke, but he does provide an affable third face to their misfit party. Felicity Jones is both a physically and emotionally attractive actress, putting in a spirited and cute performance as Freddie’s potential love interest. Ralph Fiennes is somewhat wasted in a part that could have been filled by any actor, but Emily Watson is sensational as his melancholy and introspectively drained wife. Watson only gets a handful of scenes but fills each with a lingering and forlorn sadness, working brilliantly as an example of someone who has let their life slip away. She’s an obvious foil for the main characters, but it’s none the less a terrific piece of acting. Matthew Goode is satisfactorily snide as Mr. Kendrick’s underling and Julie’s fiancée, whilst Ricky Gervais himself gets a few chuckles as Freddie’s cynical father. Gervais doesn’t occupy much screen time, but it’s a good deal more than Stephen Merchant gets, the co-director reduced to a fleeting but amusing cameo.

The film has a great soundtrack and captures the era well. As a whole it’s perhaps a little frothy to stand beside true classics of the genre, but it’s an exciting motion picture debut for the Gervais/Merchant team. “Cemetery Junction” is a well made and gripping film, and certainly shows that there’s more to its creators than many previously thought. I look forward to the next time Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant hop behind the camera, because “Cemetery Junction” is a good omen for things to come.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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