Lowdown: The adventures of three youngsters stuck at a dead end part of the UK during the early seventies.
Ricky Gervais had rightly won his claim to fame with me through his small screen escapades in The Office and Extras, both top notch comedies with plenty of smarts about them and clear relevance to the lives of their viewers. Since then Gervais went on to the big screen doing this and that; he did alright, but he didn’t exactly knock me off my sofa. In Cemetery Junction he collaborates as co-director with his TV world partner Stephen Merchant, and clearly that synergy of yonder came back to produce one of the most enjoyable films I have had the pleasure to watch at recent times. What else can I make of a film whose climax is edited around Led Zeppelin’s The Rain Song?
Set in early seventies’ England, the whole story takes place in the area around Cemetery Junction’s train station. Apparently, this suburb of Reading is a dead end area where no one can have a hope of a life considered successful. There is one exception to this rule: Ralph Fiennes’ character, who came from the ‘hood and its school but grew up to be rich and run a company selling life insurance policies.
The core of the film has us following three young guys from Cemetery Junction as they start their venture into the adult world faced with a life of no prospects. The first one goes for a white collar job with Fiennes, the second can’t stand his blue collar work and prefers a good brawl, and the third is a but too thick for his own good (and probably not as good looking). During the film’s hour and a half all three face their challenges with career, family life and the opposite sex, and all three come of age and learn what the more important things in their lives are.
Combine this trilogy of stories and you have yourself a great feel good movie. Cemetery Junction is more than that, though: it’s a very funny comedy, too, and it’s pretty smart as well. Smart comedies are rare but when done well they kick ass; smart comedies are Gervais & Merchant’s bread and butter, which they deliver plenty of here. So much so that I begun to wonder whether their particular line of smart comedy works so well on me due to both Gervais and I being outspoken atheists who share a lot of opinions and world views. I don’t have an answer to that one, but I will happily sit to discuss the matter with Gervais were he to have some spare time.
I feel like I summed the movie up thus far without providing enough insight as to its complexity. I will try to make amends by pointing a finger at the way Cemetery Junction picks up a fight with bigotry manifested in various forms but in particular in chauvinism and racism. I will continue to mention the excellent acting on display not only by Fiennes, from whom you take it for granted, but also from Emily Watson (playing Fiennes’ suppressed wife) and Gervais himself (playing one of our youngsters’ father). Then there’s the way seventies’ England is portrayed, a country still paying the price of winning The War but having most of its infrastructure in ruins as a result. Even the ending says something: all three stories end in some sort of a compromise, yet the three represent different compromises. That is a mature way to conclude a film by my book.
You could therefore say that Cemetery Junction is a complex film that delivers on multiple fronts: the quick gratification laugh, the complex motifs, and the feel good factor. I would say that’s a great achievement.
Best scene: One of our lads is having dinner with his family. Proceedings take place in a manner not unlike my own family’s: people uttering lots of bullshit while not paying much attention to one another. In this particular scene Gervais, playing the father figure, expresses his contempt for the lazy blacks coming over to our country to steal our jobs. Pointing the contradiction in this statement to him does not do much good.
Best joke: “Freddie, stop listening to music made by poofs. Stick on some Elton John.”
Technical assessment: This DVD’s picture is washed out on purpose to make things look seventies like, a fact made obvious by the very seventies like color palettes. The use of sound is interesting: although fidelity is relatively low, the volume and the aggressiveness of the use of surround channels are craftily and frequently varied in order to create the right atmosphere. And lest I forget: the seventies music soundtrack is just great.
Overall: Messrs Gervais & Merchant, I want more, please! 4.5 out of 5 stars.