Directed by: Ricky Gervais
Produced by: Sue Baden-Powell
Written by: Ricky Gervais
Starring: Christian Cooke
Music by: Tim Atack
Cinematography by: Remi Adefarasin
Editing by: Valerio Bonelli
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release dates (s): 14 April 2010 (UK)
17 August 2010 (US and Canada) (Direct-To-DVD)
Running time: 95 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Gross revenue: £1, 329, 002
For the first time in a while, I’m not apologising for something at the beginning of a review. How amazing is that! I’ve broken the mundanity of the broken record that I once was and am now finally getting back into the jist of reviewing movies on a regular basis. New reviews coming up include Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole (hoping to see next week), Red, Green Zone, Frozen, Daybreakers and Whip It, so yeah, what can I say, I'm really back this time.
Incidentally, as a point of interest for anyone who cares, on Tuesday as I was walking to the bus stop in the city centre, outside in the rain at Oxfam was a stack of old VHS' for 50p each. Natural curiosity brought me there, and lo and behold, ended up walking out with a copy of David Lynch's Eraserhead, fetching for £16 in HMV. After drying it off on the radiator, it turns out if works and no doubt it will be source of much enjoyment during the weekend. There is a real aura to finding something that you have wanted for a while second-hand, so this was a real treasure to find.
Anyway, lets cut to the chase and pay a visit to Cemetery Junction (ho! ho!). This film has received a bit of attention, primarily because of the presence of a duo that go by the names of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the men behind the terrific series' The Office and Extras. With Gervais coming off strong with his directorial debut on the highly underrated but flawed The Invention Of Lying, it seemed that with Merchant's presence, the two could not really go wrong. Their previous work has entered the pantheon of classic comedy reserved for the likes of Monty Python, and as such, Cemetery Junction was being marketed as a realisation of everything that their career had been directed towards. However, anyone thinking that we are going to get a re-run of these two series in a theatrical format would get instead a pleasant surprise.
Cemetery Junction a coming-of-age story set in Reading, Berkshire, following Freddie (Christian Cooke) as he wishes to escape from his working-class surroundings, whilst his friends Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) are content where they are. Freddie gets a job working for Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) as a door-to-door salesman, and in the process bumps Kendrick's daughter Julie (Felicity Jones), a former school sweetheart. The formula sounds so tried and tested, but the film seems to relish this.
Acting all-round is first class. The young cast is great in their respective roles. The trio of friends each delivers terrific roles that formulate and display fully rounded characters that despite their flaws are completely endearing. The standout performance is undoubtedly that of Christian Cooke in the lead role as Freddie, who does a wonderful job considering that most of the film's power weighs upon his shoulders. Being onscreen for much of the film, Cooke is a presence that could have been incredibly boring, but instead we completely warm up to him and his character, cheering him on and biting our nails and the moments where the story dictates us to (though not explicitly!). Hughes and Doolan are also great in their supporting roles and do a lot for the lesser screen time they receive, turning what could have just been effectively hangers-on to Freddie into a loveable pair of characters. Jones too shines as Julie, who has much of the same hopes as Freddie, but is pinned down by her engagement to one of his co-workers. We get the sense of her, like Freddie, being a dreamer, although she restrains herself by dismissal of her dreams. Even minor roles that take up very little screen time give you the impression of real characters. Fiennes is suitably horrible as Mr. Kendrick, although thankfully he does not go outright horrible in what comes to mind when one uses this word. How Fiennes does this is because he portrays Mr. Kendrick as a materialistic patriarch whose indifference to everything around him has created a nasty atmosphere about him. His speech at the ball to the man who he is retiring is an example of this. Also, Emily Watson, in her symbolic role as Mrs. Kendrick, does so much for the film in the limited role she is given. With great restraint and pent-up emotion, Mrs. Kendrick becomes a reminder to her daughter what life could be like for a woman in this kind of household. Finally, and I know I am gushing because it's Ricky Gervais, but he delivers a great performance as Freddie's dad. With only about two or three scenes in the entire movie, he manages to achieve similar to what purpose Mrs. Kendrick serves to Julie for Freddie, and a well-rounded character. This lack of screen dominance is something that Gervais and Merchant must be credited for.
While I could to be honest watch anything they do if they are in it, it is this scaling back of their onscreen presence' that show how skillful they really are: they are not just writing around themselves, but Cemetery Junction proves that they can write around others. This is appropriate because the story is about the three lads, in particularly Freddie, and it would have been silly and self-indulgent to have comedy moments throughout with the two. Instead, the script is structured around the journey that the three lads take over the course of the movie. The evolution that Freddie makes as a character during the course of the film is subtle and masterfully done. I won't spoil it because this evolution, achieved in the synthesis and Cooke's performance and the writing, is one of the film's real pleasures. Structurally, the film is lean and incredibly three-dimensional. There really isn't a moment that you could say should be chopped. Dialogue wise it is full of wit, although in a manner appropriate in the films context, but not without poignancy. The script tremendously balances the fine line of drama and comedy, with neither taking precedence, and the film is all the better for it.
Gervais and Merchant as directors do a wonderful job of creating authenticity of the 1970s for Cemetery Junction’s feeling. Their style is typical of that of directors who have worked on TV, with an efficiency and lean feel to the work. It is a film without any loose ends or flabby bits hanging off the edges, and the experience in TV that the two have had lends itself to this. Many film directors who have not worked in TV have the problem of making very weighty and flabby films. Gervais and Merchant do not suffer from, who despite directing like a well-oiled piece of efficient machinery, create something organic and with heart.
Their choice of cinematographer Remi Adefarasin is inspired. Having worked previously on larger-budget projects such as Elizabeth and the Band Of Brothers miniseries (and its follow-up The Pacific), Adefarasin gives Cemetery Junction a similar treatment. The hues and textures that he uses as a cinematographer gives the film a really nostalgic feel, as though it is being played out in memory. The colouring is wonderful, giving it this hyper-real dream world kind of feeling, highly appropriate for the tale being told, dreams and escapism being a primary theme that inhabits the film. It is obvious that this could have been shot as a grungy DV kind of film. Instead, Adefarasin’s photography does a wonderful job of creating atmosphere that is not without its moments of darkness, which are lit in a similar manner. There is almost a sense of the cinematography reflecting the characters at various points in the film, giving it a very organic and lively feel.
The killer soundtrack roots it firmly in its time and setting. With tracks such as Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting, David Bowie's All The Young Dudes and Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road, this is a highly appropriate choice of songs for the film. It is not just a case of pick and choose cool sounds from the 70s, for the songs are a reflection of the narrative. The use of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Variants Of Dives And Lazarus to open the film gives it a wonderful feeling of setting and atmosphere.
So yeah, I really loved Cemetery Junction. I think that it is one of the best films that I have seen all year. However, the time has come for me to be critical, although I think that it will be kept relatively short. Unfortunately, looking back on the film, as good as it is, I cannot see it as a masterpiece. Why? Despite the fact that it works well within the tried and tested format of "coming-of-age story", you cannot help but feel that there are other films that you could pick out in this format. It is like the other side of Shane Meadows' This Is England, a coming-of-age story done in an entirely different manner. Although it really does pain me to say it, the film was in a number of ways very predictable. Call me a grump, but I felt that at times it did go down the line of what is to be expected and does very much remain true to convention.
Nevertheless, Cemetery Junction is a wonderful film that should be seen by everyone as opposed to all these terribly unfunny comedies churned out on a regular basis by Hollywood: this is highly skillful, entertaining, funny and poignant filmmaking that touches the heart and soul. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have crafted a terrific piece of work. Oh, and Matthew Goode has redeemed himself for Watchmen.
The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis -8.7/10
The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Rather pleased