The Office and Extras creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant unfortunately disappoint with their first feature film collaboration.
The Office and Extras creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant write and direct Cemetery Junction, a coming-of-age tale set in Reading, England during the 1970s. Three friends spend their days working and their nights partying but each feels that something is missing. Freddie (Christian Cooke) wants to leave his working class lifestyle behind, get a better job and climb the corporate ladder. Bruce (Tom Hughes) appears happy with his lot in life but muses over adventures far beyond the town’s borders, while Snork (Jack Doolan) secretly craves the female attention his two friends find easy to come by. When Freddie gets a job with a local insurance firm and meets his old childhood flame Julie (Felicity Jones), the dynamic of the group shifts and each has to come to terms with the inner-demons that face them.
Cemetery Junction is a disappointingly by-the-numbers coming-of-age film that lacks the wit or creative ingenuity of Gervais and Merchant’s previous collaborations. I think much of what makes their brand of comedy work is how they, as actors, deliver it – it can be mean-spirited, for example, but it isn’t heartless; a self-deprecating underlining revealing the best and worst of the human condition. In The Office, Gervais plays the main character, in Extras, Gervais and Merchant share key roles, but here Gervais is shunted to the background as Freddie’s grumpy old Dad while Merchant is limited to a single minute cameo (one of the funniest moments of the film I might add). When Gervais’ character in The Office, David Brent, was being horribly racist it was funny because he was highlighting his own idiotic ignorance, the joke ultimately being on him. In Cemetery Junction, when Freddie’s Gran decides to make her own views on race known, the joke doesn’t feel funny anymore.
That isn’t to say some of the performances aren’t good – Felicity Jones is delightful, Christian Cooke is a likeable lead, and Tom Hughes has a fiery cockiness about him that sets him apart. But like the story itself, and the period setting, it all feels old hat. From the one-dimensional characters who all fit into a defined role (this could be the cast of The Breakfast Club) to the predictable ending, Cemetery Junction just never gets out of second gear. It is probably hampered due to the high expectations merited to anything Gervais and Merchant put their name to but that is no excuse for a film lacking the brilliant wit, obscure humour and social comment of their previous work. The drama even lacks the authenticity of say Andy Millman’s struggle to make it as a proper actor in Extras.
It is a shame Cemetery Junction fails to live up to expectation. Given the talent of the writer-director team you can be forgiven for asking for more. Tom Hughes gives the best performance of the film (and is one to keep an eye on in future) but like the rest of this formulaic, clichéd coming-of-age tale there is something disingenuous about him. It is almost like I’ve seen him before. Wait, I have, he was that arrogant dancer from Saturday Night Fever Tony Manero. What is he doing in England?
Ultimately, the film is as dated as its setting. Instead of an honest interpretation of growing up in 1970s Britain, we are privy to a mongrelised mash-up of stereotypical Americanised twenty-somethings drinking English tea in their English cottages in their English town.
Review by Dan Stephens – See all reviews