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Since creating TV shows The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have been recognized as two of Britain’s best-known comedic talents. Gervais is particularly known as the front man for the duo and has thus entered into other projects: stand-up tours, starring film roles, directing a film and even a guest starring on Alias. The two men have reunited to write and direct their first feature film together with Cemetery Junction.
Christian Cooke plays Freddie Taylor, a man in his 20s living in the early ’70s in Cemetery Junction, a suburb of Reading, England. Freddie wants to avoid the same life path his parents and contemporaries have taken: leaving school at 14 to work in the local factory for the rest of their lives. He goes to work at a life insurance company run by Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) and taught by salesman Mike Ramsay (Matthew Goode).
Freddie spends his free time with his close friends Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) doing all the jolly things in life: drinking, fighting and trying to score with girls. But Freddie is slowly distancing himself from them because they refuse to shed their childish ways. He also remakes a friendship with Julie (Felicity Jones), whom he last saw when he was 12. She tells Freddie her passion is to travel the world and he too has those thoughts. He becomes disillusioned with everything in Cemetery Junction.
Gervais and Merchant are both known for their comedic talents and shown that they have a range of styles such as The Office’s “mockumentary” style and Extras‘ politically incorrect humour and personal humiliation. But with Cemetery Junction, the comedy is much more natural, relying on realistic, witty lines. It’s a low-key comedy but it is still very funny. Gervais and Merchant show their range as writers and that they’re not reliant on post-modern comedy. The only moments when people speak about politically incorrect issues, for example race, it was done more as a commentary and criticism of an older generation who are not as educated or tolerate as their children.
Gervais and Merchant also have a brilliant eye as directors. The early ’70s were brought to live with amazing detail. The tone and music was perfectly fitting. This is a bright, happy and energetic film. They showed that ’70s Britain was not all doom and gloom and wanted to avoid kitchen-sink realism which is a popular genre in British cinema.
The two directors do not just tell a comedy story but also a effective drama, a coming-of-age story that even has some relevance today: young people deciding whether they stay at home or travel the world. Freddie and Julie represent these ideas as they avoid being like their parents. Emily Watson as Julie’s mother offers a touching performance as a woman who has been broken down by her husband; it’s a small but powerful role. Gervais and Merchant effectively handle the dramatic material here as well. They understand that coming-of-age comedy needs real drama to give a film more heart and keep the audience hooked.
The young cast shows its talent, particularly Cooke and Hughes, who look almost like twins but portray two very different characters. Cooke wants to change and do something positive in his life, while Hughes says he wants to leave but does nothing about it. Then there are the more experienced actors to offer balance: the aforementioned Watson as well as Fiennes and Goode who offer slimy performances as the closest thing to villains the film has. Jones offered a decent performance, attempting to give Julie some heart and emotion, but her role was a little cliché. Doolan’s character was not as believable as the dim-witted and slightly weird friend. He was a non-realistic element in an otherwise down-to-earth film.
The story is little cliché at times, but Gervais and Merchant were able to give the film enough of an twist to keep Cemetery Junction fresh and make it a funny, touching comedy drama.
Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Staring: Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Felicity Jones