Sunday, 20 May 2012

Film Review | Cemetery Junction (2010)

When watching Cemetery Junction, it's often easy to forget that this is a film penned and directed by the same duo who brought us The Office. The feel of the movie is very different in many ways to what Gervais and Merchant have  created before. But there are key similarities between their first film written together and their earlier work. At times these pleasingly work just as well as they have done on the small screen; at others, they are nothing short of the film's downfall.

Set in Reading in the 1970s, Cemetery Junction follows the life of Freddie (Christian Cooke) as he starts a new job as an assurance salesman for Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), father of his school sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones). Whilst he strives to earn the respect of his new employer and colleagues, he also tries to keep the more carefree friends with whom he has grown up.

The film's authenticity in presenting a believable recreation of '70s Britain is commendable, as each detail down to the colour palette chosen by Gervais and Merchant gives the film a genuine nostalgic feel whilst at the same time not feeling cheesy or gimmicky. Much of the film's most successful humour is gleaned from it's temporal setting. After catching Freddie listening to a classical music LP, Bruce (a superb Tom Hughes) lambasts his best mate: "stop listening to music made by poofs. Stick on some Elton John".

But whilst there are several things Gervais and Merchant get very very right, there are also a few too many that they noticeably do not. Although the majority of the cast give solid performances, I felt throughout that the story we were watching - Freddie's - wasn't the most interesting that could have been offered. His is a pretty by-the-numbers coming-of-age tale with an ending that feels a bit too "happily ever after" to fit with the tone of the story that's preceded it, and Cooke's performance also feels a little lacking in substance at several points. Bruce's life, here only dipped into, would have been significantly more compelling if fleshed out as the film's main plot and, driven by Hughes' charged and enigmatic performance, would have produced something superior to what is offered.

The film's biggest failing is perhaps Gervais himself. There are several trademark Gervais-style exchanges throughout the film, usually between members of Freddie's family, which are somewhat at odds with the more realistic feel of the film. Gervais' performance as Freddie's factory-worker father just doesn't work. He only has a handful of scenes, but they drag the film down with the comedian giving a lazy and amateurish performance that just doesn't ring true to what was needed from the role. Gervais in fact doesn't even act; he is just Gervais, with his lines sounding just like something from his podcast collaborations with Merchant and Karl Pilkington.

Gervais' casting of himself in the film smacks of arrogance; casting a different actor in the part, or even reducing the character's role in the story, would have assisted the film overall a great deal. It's a shame that Gervais and Merchant's potentially most mature and well-crafted work to date is ultimately a casualty of Gervais' ego. Cemetery Junction, with a few key tweaks, could have been an excellent comedy-drama. As it is, it is simply good but flawed.


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