I decided, on a whim, to go to the cinema after work tonight. (Okay, it wasn't entirely a whim. I'd had to pay or car parking and decided to make the most of it.) I was contemplating going to see Kick Ass
, despite myself, but for some bizarre reason there was only one showing today, in the middle of the day. So I would up going to see Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant's Cemetery Junction
I have to admit, it's not a movie I'd intended to see. I think The Office
are wonderful, but it's become very clear that Ricky Gervais is a one trick pony as a performer and the sight of him on the film poster in white shirt and leather jacket, trying to look all John Travolta in Grease was enough to turn me off.
However, the poster's completely misleading. Gervais is in it, but in a minor role as the father of the central character and certainly nothing like the poster portrays him as. He's rather miscast and, as usual, plays himself and is a little too sharp and snappy to convincingly portray his part of an ignorant factory worker.
However, that aside, what's the movie about?
It's the Summer of 1973 in small town England and Freddie (the impossibly handsome Christian Cooke) is just starting his new job selling life insurance for self-made, cut-throat businessman Ralph Fiennes. He still hangs out with his lifetime friends - Bruce (the impossibly handsome Tom Hughes), who's the leather jacket wearing James Dean wannabe who's out every night, chasing women, getting into fights and generally rebelling without cause, and Snork, named after the Banana Splits character and every bit as farcical and idiotic.
At which point Freddie discovers his new boss' daughter is childhood sweetheart Julie (the impossibly beautiful Felicity Jones) and she opens his eyes to the small town existence, making him reevaluate his life and friendships and yaddah yaddah yaddah. In other words, pretty much every small town, coming of age story in the history of cinema. With everyone young and startlingly attractive.
And that's the main problem with the movie. It's nicely performed by an appealing cast, is rich in period atmosphere, has some occasional decent dialogue, but it's very pedestrian, very safe and very much a case of "been there, done that" in place of any of the discomfort or originality you'd expect from Merchant and Gervais. It's far too easy to predict from the first how the individual's stories will be resolved and the movie doesn't confound any expectations. And, in addition, is an almost laugh-free zone. The bits that are meant to be funny are rendered bland by poor comic timing as they're dragged down by the sedate pace of the rest of the movie or, in the case of satirizing and pricking attitudes of the day, such as Freddie's family's casual racism, it's done lazily and badly. An episode of Love Thy Neighbour
has as much to say about racism in Britain in the 1970s as this movie. Gervais is no Alf Garnett.
And then there's the idea that the Reading suburb the trio of friends is stuck in is somewhere they'd be desperate to escape from, but instead of being all grimy factories and colourless offices, they appear to have chosen to film it in an attractive village setting, all thatched cottages and village greens.
The colourful and attractive setting only detracts from occasional moments of genuine pathos, such as the gut-wrenching look on an insurance salesman’s face as he retires after 42 years and is presented with a cheap cut-glass fruit bowl and a horribly inappropriate and dismissive speech from Ralph Fiennes's boss from hell. More such unexpected bitterness and a genuine feeling of these being places and people the central characters would be desperate to escape from would have strengthened the film, as opposed to dippy Snork’s Baldrick schtick. It's all a bit too nice and the darker characteristics of Julie's slimy fiance and father and genuinely gritty and oppressive surroundings and home lives for the central characters would have made the desire to escape have seemed understandable. As it is, the characters don't really seem to have as much to complain about as they seem to think they do.
All this said, there are moments to enjoy and the whole film is inoffensive and even enjoyable. The climax is genuinely warm and life-affirming and there's some striking cinematography and some impeccable production design work. The movie looks great, sounds great and is attractively and charismatically performed by its cast of relative unknowns. It's not a bad movie, by any means, but coming from the stable it's from, it all just seems to be rather toothless.