Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tom Hughes, Felicity Jones
Ricky Gervais has mainly been known for his work on the brilliant sitcom The Office. He has attempted since to create new shows or dab his hand in film, mainly in the states, but none of these have been as much of a hit as The Office was. Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant generally write and direct their own stuff and more often than not cast themselves in one of the roles. In Cemetery Junction however the pair seem to have broken off from their normal devices and created something entirely different. For starters the film is a drama with comedy elements instead of an outright comedy and Gervais limits himself to more of a supporting role. Does it work then, knowing Gervais’ usual style? The answer is a definite yes!
The film revolves around three friends, Freddie, Bruce, and Snork, who live in a working class area of Reading called Cemetery Junction. Growing up Freddie has always respected his Father (played by Gervais) who works hard to earn a small living at a factory, but when it’s Freddie’s turn to work at the factory he decides he doesn’t want to. Instead he takes a job selling insurance, where he earns better money and wears a suit to work, despite his friends and family mocking him for it. As he begins to work he realises he has grown out of the immature activities he and his mates usually get up to, such as criminal damage, fighting, and drinking, all of which generally end up with them in a police cell. Starting to dream of making something of himself, Freddie takes his job seriously and meets an old flame Julie, who he finds is engaged to his boss and daughter of the owner to the company. His new fondness for his job doesn’t rub off on his better friends who accuse him of turning into someone who believes he’s better than the area he was brought up in. However his attention to detail begins to be noticed by Julie and her Mother. After spending a lot of isolated time with Julie he begins to realise how the men within the firm are highly chauvinistic and his friends are highly immature and will never chase their dreams. Julie inspires him to break free and never let anyone or anything hold him back.
The story of the film is a coming-of-age tale and it’s highly noticeable within each of the characters. Despite some of the relationships seeming a little rushed, especially Freddie and Julie’s, the characters are very well written and all undertake a very satisfying arc by the end. The three leads all face internal struggles where they fail to accept the moments in life that will ultimately make them better people. They use crime as a way to release their anger that builds inside them whilst promising themselves they will leave their downtrodden estate, knowing deep down that they never will.
All of their internal conflicts are resolved by the end and each character’s story feels complete when they come to the conclusion. The characters drive the story, as the plot on its own is rather bare and simple, but it’s the way the characters are written, presented and acted that make you follow them on their emotional journey. All the actors play their roles very well. In my eyes the two stars were Emily Watson and Tom Hughes who both play their roles as if they were born to do it. Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode are also good as two chauvinistic men who believe money is more important than the women in their lives. Christian Cooke, who plays Freddie, also does a decent job but his relationship with Felicity Jones (Julie) failed to have much chemistry. In a stripped back role Gervais is also good but unfortunately Merchant is given a God-awful cameo that quite frankly should have been left out. And for Idiot Abroad lovers there is also a blink and you’ll miss him cameo from Karl Pilkington.
It’s safe to say that Gervais and Merchant have produced a good first attempt at writing and directing a feature film. The directing isn’t particularly outstanding but it tells the story, if anything it was the editing that felt a bit out of place especially with some of the jump cuts which were pointlessly used. The writing though was top class and some of the dialogue was laugh out loud funny. The words used were typical of their style of writing and at times very controversial. As the film is set in the 70’s the pair have managed to write dialogue which could be classed as placing a statement in today’s society but not even blinked at in the era of the film. Lines involving racism, feminism and class derogatory were the norm back then and some of these issues highlight how different the world is today.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised with this film. It’s definitely a feel good movie that comes to a satisfying conclusion for all the major characters. By stripping back their work of sarcasm and in your face humour, Gervais and Merchant have produced a film many would believe they couldn’t and I think if they continued with this type of genre they could make something even better.