Review by Jack Foley
HAVING established themselves as a formidable TV partnership thanks to the success of The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant now set their sights on big screen success with Cemetery Junction.
The result plays to their creative strengths and is an engaging, if flawed, experience that is partly inspired by Gervais’ own experiences of growing up and escaping Reading, as well as the Bruce Springsteen record Thunder Road.
It’s also loaded with cinematic references, whether they be the British films of the ’50s and ’60s, or seminal Hollywood moments such as Rebel Without A Cause, Saturday Night Fever and American Graffiti.
The story is simple, the themes universal. Three best friends – Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) – dream of escaping their average lives in 1970s Reading.
Freddie is the closest to realising this dream, however, having found employment with an insurance company (bossed by Ralph Fiennes) and a ‘brilliant’ tutor in Mike Ramsay (Matthew Goode).
Bruce, on the other hand, is the most charismatic of the trio but constantly in trouble with the law for drinking and fighting, and at odds with his father, who he views as a disappointment.
Snork, meanwhile, dreams of nothing more than to meet the girl of his dreams and to get over his social awkwardness (he cannot even tell an anecdote).
Matters become complicated for all of them when Freddie’s success and ambition threatens to divide them, while his relationship with former flame Julie (Felicity Jones) also poses problems given that she’s the daughter of his boss and engaged to Ramsay.
As with The Office and Extras, Cemetery Junction thrives on its observational skills and human drama. But anyone expecting a mere cinematic retread of past glories may also be surprised to learn that while there is humour aplenty, the emphasis is more on drama.
And despite a slow start, the film eventually wins you over with its slow-building feelgood moments and relatable scenarios and characters.
Cooke makes an endearing everyman hero, while his chemistry with the luminous Jones is often spellbinding; Hughes successfully channels the energy of James Dean and John Travolta for his rebel with a cause; and Doolan proves adept at mixing humour with humility in spite of being the weakest written of the three.
There’s strong support, too, from Fiennes, as Freddie’s pompous, misogynist boss, Emily Watson, as his long-suffering wife, and Gervais himself as Freddie’s factory worker father… as well as a hilarious cameo from Merchant to savour.
The period feel is authentic, the soundtrack a brilliant accompaniment, and the sharp dialogue as honest and comedic as we’ve come to expect from the duo.
Ironically, however, it’s in the more straightforward comedy that the film often falls flat, perhaps because it doesn’t sit quite so comfortably alongside the drama.
Early on, especially, a lot of the humour veers towards beer, fart and body part gags, which feel beneath Gervais and Merchant, while the character of Snork is one they both appear to be struggling with. Although nicely played by Doolan, it’s actually a thankless role that’s as awkward as the character himself.
That said, for anyone willing to overlook such shortcomings, this is an assured piece of filmmaking that deftly mixes uplifting, feelgood moments with others that are coated in poignancy. It should comfortably win most viewers over.
Running time: 95mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 30, 2010
- Read our review
- Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant interview
- Christian Cooke interview
- Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan interview
- Cemetery Junction Gallery