Friday, 16 April 2010

Cemetery Junction

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant present us with this nostalgia trip back to their homeland of Reading during the Seventies. But after disastrous results like The Invention Of Lying, does the return of Merchant prove to be another winner, or should it just be left for dead? The Wild Bore goes up the junction to find out.

I used to be a big fan of Gervais, but recently his output has been somewhat crap. The Invention Of Lying might have been one of the worst films in the last decade, Ghost Town was alright, but he only starred in it rather than writing it. Even his stand-up hasn't been that great and I think it's clear he is at the top of his game when he is with Merchant. This film would prove this theory correct.

But don't go rushing out just yet because as much as this film was enjoyable, it felt like an ITV Sunday drama. The story is about three mates, one full of ambition for the 2.4 children lifestyle, the other one more care-free who is just shooting the breeze, and the fat, funny one. Julie, the love interest, is about to settle down as the nice little housewife but has aspiring dreams to be a photographer. The whole thing is basically about finding themselves, whether it's in Reading or not.

The Seventies setting worked well, the great music and amazing fashion really stood out and I'm sure a lot of the audience will gladly reminisce about their own youth. But trying to update it by using language such as 'cunt' and 'fit' made it jar slightly and, apart from the fact it's supposed to be about Gervais and Merchant's own youth, there's no real reason for this to be set during that time, apart from quaintness. The suburban frustrations still run solid today and that no matter what, kids will always think they are special. Which quite frankly is dangerous, look at the Americans for example (heyo!). The setting works though and casual racism and sexism that (as far as I know) was around back then, isn't being held back and, as people familiar with Gervais will know, can be quite cringeworthingly funny. But that's just it. It's absolutely not a comedy - though peppered with humorous bits, it's actually very serious.

Main character Freddie wants the big house, the big car and all that, but as the film progresses he sees how that lifestyle, and the people involved, can lead to nothing but an applause and a punch bowl, which is a great representation of how empty it all becomes. His job of selling life insurance says it all, people thrive on adventure and living for the moment, but everything he's planned out suddenly looks stale and he realises that there's a bigger world out there. His old sweetheart Julie spurs this on, her own sense of adventure inspires him to the point where he is constantly directly quoting her, however she believes she can have it all, the married lifestyle and the wide, open world for her to explore - but unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. Freddie is also working for her Dad, one of my favourite actors Ralph Fiennes, and she suddenly sees how her fiancee Matthew Goode, is just becoming a clone of her father. Freddie's own Dad, Ricky Gervais, surprisingly ruins the whole thing. You cannot see Gervais as a factory worker as he looks like he hasn't done a hard day's work in his life, his arms look useless and flabby and you can't help but still see traces of David Brent in everything he does. To be honest, he should now be stepping away from in front of the camera and concentrate on being behind it before we all get too sick of him. A cameo would be fine, like Merchant's brief yet hilarious one in this, and someone could have been better cast to play Freddy's dad than himself. It's once again a selfish move by a shameless self-promoter.

As much as I enjoyed all the acting in the movie (but Gervais), the real standout was Tom Hughes who plays Bruce. His character was not only more enjoyable to watch, but perfectly executed. He looks fucking cool for a start, like Lou Reed Velvet Underground era, and is a rebel with a heart, he'll stand up for his mates and for his principles. Even though his anger against his father is directed against others, he doesn't just kick off for no reason, he's an angry young man and wants to be like James Dean. Freddy might go on about how Bruce is just scared to leave the town, but you start to realise maybe he stays because he wants to be with his mates, or maybe that he doesn't want to leave his father or for some unfinished business of sorts. Whatever it is, he knows he can't leave until he's sorted himself out. His realisation about his father is horribly affecting, and a little too close to home for me but even though the story's emphasis is on Freddy, the true story is about Bruce and perhaps having him in the front of the poster is more telling than we suspect.

Then the comic relief, Snork, is a lovable idiot and, like a lot of people, is perfectly happy to just stay where he is. This pretty much sums up what the film is about. Even though your hometown is a piece of shit, no matter if you run away, stay or put things off until a bit later, it's your choice to make and you should do whatever makes you happy. This leaves a more heartwarming feeling than just trying to tell people that they should definitely go explore because, for some people, they just don't need to, and will probably be just as happy, perhaps happier, than if they go away. But then it does inspire you that there's more out there than what you can see, and that's always a good thing.

It's a shame that, by the end, it all gets a bit cheesy and feels too sweet and mainstream, something I wouldn't have thought of Gervais and Merchant, but there's enough here to keep every type of audience entertained. I wouldn't go see this at the cinema if you can help it, as like I said, it's a nice Sunday evening viewing, but it's not going to blow anyone away. It's a sweet little film and it's good to see the comedy writing duo doing something different and proving they can be taken seriously. A step forward perhaps, but by no means a leap.

Rating: 7/10

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