Monday, 26 April 2010

Cemetery Junction (2010)


Plot Summary: In 1970s England, the lives of three friends are forever changed when one of them bumps into his old school sweetheart.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant first made names for themselves with TV shows The Office and Extras, and rightly so. Both were cringe-inducing but hilarious and heartbreaking pieces of television that deserved all the attention they garnered. Putting aside Gervais’s State-side directing gig, The Invention of Lying (Merchant wasn’t creatively involved and it was a pretty poor film), Cemetery Junction sees both making the big move onto cinema screens. Cemetery Junction isn’t quite what you’d expect from the people that brought you characters like David Brent or Andy Millman, but instead sees Gervais and Merchant shifting gears somewhat and delivering a heart warming coming-of-age story set in the 70s. With Cemetery Junction both directors have crafted an astute and beautifully presented début that, despite being slightly too melodramatic and predictable, is as funny as it is moving.

Cemetery Junction creates a believable 1970s without relying too heavily on stereotypes, name-dropping or cultural iconography. Instead the film services its period details on a subtler level; snippets of overheard news reports, trends in fashion and a brilliant soundtrack all give you a sense of the times without shoving it in your face. The film is also beautifully shot; Gervais and Merchant paint a picturesque vision of the British summertime that creates an uplifting tone rarely seen in domestic films dealing with suburban life. Not content in just bringing a beautiful vision of Reading to the screen, the film-makers also leave room for some astute experimentalism with sound and image. A scene later on in the film in which a night out on the town goes horribly wrong features a nicely stylised piece of slow motion as images distort and sound deteriorates piece by piece.

Gervais and Merchant show no signs of losing their eye for character based comedy either. The inter-play between Freddie’s father and grandmother is priceless and the railway cafe owner is hilariously crude in a way only the British can truly appreciate. The laughs on offer here come thick and fast and come in a variety of forms (ranging from broad to contextual humour), but never threaten to overcome the dramatic tone of the film. The central plot of the film, Freddie’s attempt to find meaning in life and escape from his home town, is thoroughly moving and delivers an important, positive and up-lifting message. It’s when Cemetery Junction spends more time on its other characters, however, that it really carries some dramatic weight. Sub-plots focusing on Freddie’s best friend Bruce or his boss’s loveless marriage are handled with grace and are truly heartbreaking. It’s in these moments that the film transcends its funny coming-of-age genre template and becomes something far more emotionally rewarding.

All of this would of course mean nothing if it were not backed up with credible performances. Thankfully both Gervais and Merchant have assembled a brilliant cast which utilises a great combination of both new and old talent alike. Out of the three younger leads it’s Tom Hughes’s Bruce that stands out; his simmering rage and cocky stride hide a wealth of demons which are perfectly portrayed by the young actor. Elsewhere Gervais does well to cast himself in a small, comedic supporting role (not to mention Merchant’s brief but brilliant cameo) and veteran actor Ralph Fiennes does a terrific job with his self-centred and ruthless corporate boss, Mr. Kendrick. The true stand out performance here though is Emily Watson, playing Mrs. Kendrick. She has few scenes and says and does very little in them but Watson manages to provide the strongest emotional punch just by using her body language to convey a tragic world of isolation and regret.

Even though Cemetery Junction is an assured début, it’s by no means a perfect film. Gervais and Merchant do the best they can to prevent the film from being overly sentimental but a few cheesy moments still slip through. No matter how Felicity Jones delivers lines like, “Throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it” or “I think I might be in love with you too” (and Freddie’s annoying habit of repeating everything she has to say) they’re still going to sound melodramatic. Cemetery Junction is also extremely predictable as many moments in the film (including the films conclusion) will come as no surprise to anyone watching. All the loose narratives threads are tied up and everyone lives happily ever after. This, of course, comes with the territory but a couple of surprises along the way wouldn’t have hurt. Nevertheless, Cemetery Junction is a fine film from Gervais and Merchant and I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Final Verdict: 8/10

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