Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cemetery Junction

If landmark TV shows The Office and Extras proved one thing absolute, it was that creators/stars Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were able to balance blistering, caustic social observation with breathtaking pathos. It's the latter that comes to the fore in their first feature-length debut Cemetery Junction, one which forgoes ironic humour in favour of a much gentler amble through 1970s nostalgia.

It will prove an almighty sticking point for those desiring the uncomfortable laughs of before (although a worker's ball setpiece midway through is hilariously awkward); but then, Gervais and Merchant have proved themselves in that arena already, and are clearly out to shatter notions they are one-trick ponies. Just as the bleak, washed-out offices of Wernham Hogg were a breath of fresh air all those years ago, so does the big heart of Cemetery Junction take us by surprise, a heart-warmer from the masters of acidic wit.

The remarkably even-handed screenplay unfolds in the lovely opening scene, where the fictional Reading town of Cemetery Junction basks in glorious sunshine to the sound of Vaughn Williams. Honing in to a more intimate viewpoint, Williams is then shattered by the emergence of Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, as we are introduced to the three young heroes of the piece: Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan).

Typical young lads who booze, brawl and paint genitalia on billboards, the film follows their lives, Freddie as a fledgling insurance agent subservient to loathsome reptilian bosses Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode; Bruce as a factory working nobody with a broken home life; and Snork as the chubby loser who’s butt of all the jokes. All three take the lead at different stages, offering alternately humorous, gritty and moving angles to a fairly routine coming-of-age story.

Gervais and Merchant’s sure hands on the tone of the piece however, guide it effortlessly through any familiarity, ensuring the film is never too nasty, sentimental or sickly for its own good. Cooke is an engaging, straight-faced lead, rekindling a tender relationship with childhood friend Julie (Felicity Jones), but the real dramatic meat of the film comes with the impeccable supporting performances across the board, with Hughes a moving standout as the troubled Bruce, encountering a powerful confrontation with Steve Speir’s amiable Sgt. Davies over his wasted existence, and Emily Watson simply heartbreaking as the ghostly, wey-faced wife of Fiennes’ odious, career-driven monster (whose attitude subsequently rubs off on deputy Goode’s relationship to fiancĂ©e Jones). Gervais himself meanwhile offers several huge belly laughs sparring with Anne Reid’s testy grandmother.

With more than a hint of Martin Freeman’s Office woes, there’s a gripping, desperate duality on display with both the chance of escape from the town and the chance of consuming oneself in work offering positives and negatives. It’s a Brit film where, for once, the youth scene feels authentic, tasteful and accurate, full of a gentle optimism that should be an inspiration to all. And even if that sounds sanctimonious, the final line shows Gervais and Merchant still have their feet as firmly on the ground as they did when exploring Slough’s nightlife in Chasers for the first time.

No comments:

Post a Comment