Gervais and Merchant's feel-good drama hits the spot
Cert: 15, 95 mins
Starring: Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Cristian Cooke, Felicity Jones, Ricky Gervais
For those who worried about Office-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant moving into feature films, you may now breathe out. Deep breaths. Relax.
Because thankfully, not only is Cemetery Junction not crap, it’s great, just in some quite unexpected ways: it’s a warm, affectionate, sweet-natured, and a genuinely uplifting coming-of-age drama. Set in the 70s.
I know what you’re thinking: warm? Uplifting? Sweet-natured? A drama? Set when? Are they feeling okay? That’s a bit… different.
Well, yes and no. Telling the tale of three best friends (Tom Hughes’ troubled factory worker Bruce, Jack Doolan‘s snouty, women-repelling Snork, Christian Cooke‘s dashing but disillusioned insurance-selling Freddie) as they plot their escape from small-town life, the similarities with The Office and Extras are obvious. They’re small-time losers, daring to dream for more, looking for a way out.
Cemetery Junction comes at it from a different angle though. The Office and Extras were comedies where the laughs were underpinned by sadness. The people in them – Tim, Dawn and Brent; Andy and Maggie – were in their 30s and 40s, still dreaming, but melancholy, tired, already half-defeated by life. It was comedy of the could-have-beens.
Here, they’re kids, right out of school. The Office and Extras style of comedy only works with the world-weary, and they’re anything but: romping from one 70s-music infused montage to the next – dancing, fighting, drinking, pulling, having the time of their lives. The film can’t help but follow. Gone is the strip-lit realism and corner-mouth mumbles of their TV work, in come lush palettes, sweeping tracking shots, and confident cuts that show Merchant and Gervais as visual directors of genuine flair.
The problems aren’t behind these friends, but in front – what they might become if they stay. And so Cemetery Junction naturally becomes a drama, looking forward, with the laughs sprinkled on top. The Office in reverse.
Naturally, each has an issue to solve. Snork must work out how to talk to women. Bruce must stop getting in trouble with the police and sort out issues with his dad. Freddie must work out how to pull the lovely Julie (Felicity Jones), who also happens to be the daughter the boss he hates (Ralph Fiennes). Gervais makes an appearance as Freddie‘s dad with some funny lines, but if anything he feels like a distraction to the main event – an appearance purely for the trailer.
Sure, they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here. Yes, the Freddie-Julie story is essentially a Tim-Dawn retread. Yes, Fiennes is a Dalmatian or two away from being a Disney villain. Sure, there are times when it all gets uncomfortably close to Richard Curtis territory. And I’ll admit, the colour palette is a bit like a six-year-old’s felt tip pen collection.
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But it’s so good-natured, so effortless, so fun, so well-done, you can’t help but like it anyway. And when the emotional scenes do come, Gervais and Merchant – as they always have – know the power of restraint. Even wish-fulfilment fantasy becomes real.
Would you want them to make something more challenging in future? Yes, perhaps. But for starters, this’ll do just fine.