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Cemetery Junction Review

Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell
cem poster.jpg

One expects a project with Ricky Gervais attached to feature the jowly comic front and centre, for better or worse. Not so his first so-called serious film, Cemetery Junction, in which both he and producer-in-crime Stephen Merchant take a back seat to some earnest young British talent. The film is a romantic look back at the turbulence of small town British youth in the 70’s, a conventional tale with a sweet centre that will likely surprise the casual Gervais fan.

Cemetery Junction is the sort of town Bruce Springsteen would have sung about if he were British, or Billy Bragg would have sung about if he were a little more Springsteen. A blue-collar factory town with a salt-of-the-earth type community that kids can’t wait to get right away from. The film follows the exploits of a trio of 20-something pals who drift uncertainly through life with no more concrete a plan than not becoming their parents.

Freddie (Christian Cooke) is the go-getter of the group, which isn’t saying a great deal. He has decided that toiling his life away in a factory is not for him, set instead on making a little money, finding a nice girl, getting a house, the usual. This absolutely disgusts Bruce (Tom Hughes), the rebellious roustabout who is happy to sweat it out on the floor if it means his nights are free for a little dancing, drinking, screwing, and fighting, in whatever order he can find them. Rounding out the trio is Snork (Jack Doolan), a middling plump kid with a horrendous tattoo and probably some kind of brain damage.

Together the gang bounce around the usual sort of situations these coming-of-age affairs entail; brushes with the law, parental conflict, first loves, strained friendships, and inevitable personal epiphanies. There’s certainly nothing envelop-pushing about yet another period look at youth culture, but the film hits every beat dead on - breezily funny, tolerably heartfelt, and charmingly energetic.

The reproduction of the little Podunk 70’s village in particular is beautifully authentic. The young character’s showy costumes look suitably incongruous against the perfectly drab background of the parochial town and wider conservative society. All three of the young men are instantly identifiable through their unique attempts at frustrated revolt; it’s impossible not to get behind the beer-swilling, bird-chasing, bumbling renegades, even at their most misguided.

The soundtrack hits all the expected notes, Elton John, Bowie, Slade, Roxy Music, the whole gang. Despite the obvious picks the tracks are used to great effect, infusing the many scenes in which the lads are basically wandering about doing nothing at all with a frustrated urgency and familiar adrenaline.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for anyone familiar with previous Gervais productions is just how gorgeous the film looks. The comedian’s talent has always been in dialogue and physical comedy, not so much visual storytelling; whenever The Office or Extras attempted particularly poignant stories they tended to come off more than a little ham-fisted. Cemetery Junction, however, wears its trite little heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it. This is largely due to the rich, warm, resplendent cinematography of Remi Adefarasin.

Which is not to say the script doesn’t carry its weight, it’s probably the best thing Gervais has writing as craft goes. It’s funny, of course, with cutting dialogue and fantastically awkward situations. But the screenplay gives equal measure to letting its characters just breath and inhabit their not terribly remarkable little world. It’s by-the-numbers storytelling in the best possible sense, a fine example of why following the rules is sometimes the best thing a writer can do, no matter how experienced.

The acting is perfectly serviceable; all three young leads capably juggle the humour and drama, with fiery Pearson really distinguishing himself as the archetypical self-destructive rouge. Felicity Jones handles the only substantial female role, love interest Julie, with definitely Molly Ringwald-esque spunk. A supporting cast of well known’s including Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson do nothing to hurt the production either.

And yes, both Gervais and Merchant show up in some capacity. Playing Freddie’s factory worker father, Gervais doesn’t exactly stretch himself but still manages to seal his scenes through inappropriate dialogue jousts with his aging mother. Merchant, seemingly unable to play anything other than a bug-eyed cartoon, is mercifully restricted to a cameo that should nonetheless tickle Extras fans.

A lovely little film, reverently crafted and just oozing sentimental rebellion and underdog heart, all signs point to Cemetery Junction going straight to DVD in the US, which is just criminal, so do yourself a favour and go see it on the big screen while you can. Even if Gervais usually isn’t usually to your taste, the film has a universal appeal and sleek feel that is almost irresistible. Cemetery Junction might be a town for losers, but the flick pulls out of there to win.

Cemetery Junction is in cinemas now.

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