Directors: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
Screenplay: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
Producers: Sue Baden-Powell, Charlie Hanson, Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
Starring: Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 95 min
I‘ll get this out of the way straight from the bat, because you can all see the low rating already. I know there are quite a few Ricky Gervais haters out there and his brand of humour isn’t to everyone’s tastes, so before you put me in that category I must say that generally I am a Ricky Gervais fan (when he’s teamed up with Stephen Merchant at least). I love The Office (the British original, I’ve not seen the US version) and what I’ve seen of Extras is great too. I didn’t however like Cemetery Junction very much at all.
The lauded pair’s directorial debut (together) is set in a small British town called Cemetery Junction in the 1970’s. A group of friends reaching turning points in their lives long to leave their pitiful surroundings and make a name for themselves elsewhere in the world. The film largely centres around Freddie Taylor (played by Christian Cooke), who has made the first steps to bucking the trend of factory employment and underachievement prevalent in Cemetery Junction by starting work selling life insurance for the rich ex-Junctioner Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes). He starts to doubt this move though as he meets Kendrick’s soon-to-be-wed daughter Julie (Felicity Jones), an old friend from school who dreams of travelling the globe, yet is set to become a downtrodden housewife.
Cemetery Junction is a painfully predictable and crudely laborious film. Coming from two people most famous for their writing talents, the script is terrible. The dialogue sticks to their usual style and works fine for the most part, but the actual plotting and general content is poor. The main annoyance for me was just how hammered home everything is. There is no subtlety at all in this film, points are made, then remade, then repeated again ad nauseam. (MINOR SPOILER) The worst example of this can be seen in some scenes revolving around making tea. The first is where we see Emily Watson’s character Mrs. Kendrick bring Mr Kendrick a cup of tea; he totally ignores her as though she’s not there and she sits back down. This in itself works quite well. A couple of scenes down the line however, Freddie brings this up with Julie in a conversation which is heard by her mother Mrs Kendrick, spoiling the subtlety of the previous scene a little. In a following scene, this subtlety is entirely annihilated as we see Mrs Kendrick demonstrate it again to Julie, who then tries the same trick with her fiancé. (END OF SPOILER) This turns what could have been a nice little gesture about domesticity into heavy handed sign-posting which is totally unnecessary due to the film’s crystal clear message.
In general it’s just all so clichéd and uninteresting that it feels like a low-rate TV drama and not the touching coming of age story it longs to be. The subject matter is handled a thousand times better in Barry Levinson’s Diner, which like this is looking at twenty somethings struggling to come to terms with impending adulthood. It’s clear what that film is getting at too, but it doesn’t shove it down your throat, it just lets the seemingly inane and goofy exploits of the central group of friends give the characters a platform to subtly shift over time. In Cemetery Junction the core group get up to plenty of mischief, but it’s all overplayed. There’s an horrific ‘fat friend gatecrashes a stage and ends up singing really well’ scene that made my jaw drop with it’s naffness. It’s even got stuck up pensioners instantly getting into it and clapping along with big grins on their faces. Yes, it’s that bad.
On the positive side, some of the smaller scenes with the friends just chatting the shit are fairly well done and there’s a good handful of witty lines in there. Gervais and Merchant are honourable enough to take a side seat on the acting side of things (they’re clearly too old for the subject matter though of course) and most of the cast do a reasonable job. Ralph Fiennes makes a likeably unlikeable ‘villain’ so to speak and Felicity Jones stood out for me too (although it could just be that she’s utterly gorgeous – see above). Like some of Woody Allen’s films though there’s a tendency to have too many characters speaking like Gervais and Merchant do in their own routines rather than crafting their own identity. Their particular brand of sarcastic put downs don’t settle well in every scene either and just sound like quotes from Extras at times rather than natural dialogue.
Overall Cemetery Junction is a real disappointment. The Office was great satire that felt fresh and original on it’s release and Gervais and Merchant are capable of making funny, insightful work, but this is far from original or insightful. It’s a bland, hackneyed film with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face.
RowThree's UK correspondent.