One of my favourite films of all time is Stand By Me. Generally regarded as one of the greatest coming of age films ever; it will always hold a special place in my film-obsessed heart. While the UK never really had a Rob Reiner or a John Hughes all of that is about to change with Cemetery Junction.
Here, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have created a film that follow the same lines as something like The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but with a wonderful British twist.
Our story is set in Reading during the 70s. Three best mates, Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes), and Snork (Jack Doolan) meander through life. Nothing much happens in Reading and the three friends are content with drinking, chasing girls and painting huge visions of genitalia on advertising billboards.
When Freddie decides he wants to make something of his life rather than ending up working in a factory like his dad he manages to wrangle himself a job selling life insurance door-to-door. As it turns out, Freddie learns that making something of your life isn’t all plain sailing and things get even more complicated when he rediscovers his childhood sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones). Julie happens to be the daughter of his slimy boss Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Feinnes) and the fiancée of his equally slimy co-worker Mike Ramsay (Matthew Goode).
Now, I was more than a little cautious going into this one. I really didn’t like The Invention Of Lying at all. In fact, I hated it. Gervais had failed to impress me on the big screen so far and one more bad experience would have probably been the nail in the coffin. It’s true that this was going to be the first time that Gervais and Merchant would have worked together since their small screen success but I still had my doubts.
In reality, I shouldn’t have worried at all because Cemetery Junction possesses one of the best scripts of recent years.
It takes great skill to be funny but it takes even greater skill to be funny, sad and uplifting along with a million other emotions all at once. You know that moment in a film that manages to produce a big smile across your face? Well, Cemetery Junction has a plethora of moments like that. Be it witnessing Snork’s ill-fated attempt at tattoo design, watching him rock out to Slade, seeing Bruce dance or finally connect with his father, watching Freddie as he falls in love with the one that got away and everything in between as the film leads up to its truly brilliant ending.
This is Gervais and Merchant at their genius best. Easily on par with their cracking scripts for The Office and Extras. It’s the trademark playground humour that fans of those two TV shows will find the most satisfying of all. It’s like meeting up with an old friend and wondering why they had disappeared in the first place.
They can’t just write. They can direct too. Capturing the 70s perfectly through small details such as the wallpaper. Of course, any film set in the 70s wouldn’t be complete without a suitable soundtrack and the film doesn’t disappoint here either. Using great songs in key moments of the film is a masterful choice and as the film reaches the aforementioned climax to the sounds of Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes I can promise you that you will be completely lost in the moment.
If the script is excellent then the performances are just as good. Cooke, Hughes and Doolan play our three heroes superbly. Each one lending their own personal touch to proceedings. Cooke’s Freddie all wide eyed and ready for the world. He is us in celluloid form. Hughes is all drama and anger evoking James Dean and Doolan is pure comedy mixed with awkward pubescent charm.
Elsewhere Felicity Jones is just wonderful as Julie. Trapped in a world full of male chauvinist pigs she is the sparkle in 70s Reading. Matthew Goode continues on from his great work in A Single Man and turns in an especially good performance as the… dare I say evil fiancée. Leap Year was still shit Matthew! Emily Watson does amazing work with what little screen time she has and Anne Reid is bloody hilarious as Freddie’s gran.
However, above everybody else stands Ralph Feinnes. I can’t quite put into words how truly outstanding Feinnes is as the creepy dictator-esque and villainous Mr Kendrick. I’m not lying to you when I tell you that this is a performance that recalls Amon Goeth mixed with Harry Waters. During one stand out scene especially, while Kendrick talks to a packed room during an annual work function about a retiring colleague is nothing short of mesmerising.
The moral of the story is simple. There is much more to life than working, eating and watching telly. Why are we constantly dealing with small ideas in such a big world?
Once in while cinema has the power to be truly inspirational. This is one of those moments but if you feel that you don’t need any inspiration in your life then at least go and see Cemetery Junction for the fact that it showcases two of the best British writers at the top of their game. Failing that, where else can you learn exactly why Noddy wears a hat with a bell on it? The answer lies at the cinema.
14 April – UK
TBC – USA
TBC – Australia