Ricky Gervais isn’t funny.
In my opinion, of course. Whilst many found that David Brent dance hilarious, I sat stony faced. Granted, Extras did have it’s moments, but it was nothing memorable. Now the team of Gervais and Merchant turn their attention to more serious drama, with coming-of-age tale Cemetery Junction.
Focusing on three lifelong friends (Freddie, the aspiring insurance salesman who dreams of gaining the riches that his boss has, the tough guy Bruce and the main comic relief ‘Snork’) living in an almost inescapable town, the story mainly follows Freddie and his attempts to grow up, whereas Bruce is still starting fights, and generally being anti social. Snork is torn between the two; he wants to move on, yet in a way looks up to Bruce. Throw a school sweetheart into the mix and you’ve got the makings of a generic narrative, in which you’re sure of the outcome.
And that’s pretty much the case here; you know exactly where it’s going, but it gets there crawling. The pace is sometimes none existent; it’d move quicker if everyone on screen just stood still. But strangely, it’s a good thing: the time is reserved to getting to know the characters, but on the flip side a successful film can usually do this within and develop a character throughout the rest of it. This seemed to repeatedly introduce us to them all, whilst not really adding anything new to their personalities.
Although it’s not an all out comedy, there are moments of genius here that I didn’t expect to find as funny as I did. The stand out example is the retirement dinner party for a worker who’s been there for countless amount of years. Ralph Fiennes as Freddie’s boss undoubtedly makes this scene, and every scene he is in. Scratch that, every movie he is in. He’s one of those people that when you see his face, you know you’ve seen him in something else as a memorable character.. you just can’t remember it.
The recreation of 1970’s Reading is exquisite. Think of it as peering through the window of one of those old sweet shops you see on the high street. I didn’t live through this era, but I certainly imagine it looked like this. Sometimes I had a feeling that a lot of effort went into it to mask the formulaic characters and admittedly implausible romantic sub plot. But it worked. Gervais even makes a small cameo as Freddie’s father. And by small, I mean he’s in the movie for about 5 minutes, maximum. Apparently that justifies an appearance on the poster though.
Overall, it’s nice to see a British movie about good ol’ Britain trying to make it into the mainstream, and of course it wouldn’t have been possible without Gervais. Imagine trying to sell this to the American market with the words “By Director Stephen Merchant”. It does have a certain charming feel about it, but I put that down to the nostalgic look and the litre of coke I’d consumed.