Judge Daniel Kelly comes from Graveyard crossroads.
Be Young. Be Free. Be Somebody.
Cemetery Junction marks the first feature length collaboration between the celebrated comedy pairing of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The duo is responsible for laugh riot TV shows The Office and Extras, something that makes Cemetery Junction a surprising cinematic endeavour. The awkward observations and occasional crude guffaws that encompassed the comedic tone of their past projects are gone, leaving us with a surprisingly tender and soulful coming of age tale. The film underperformed at the Box-Office when it was released in the UK last April, hence why American audiences are effectively getting the product straight to DVD. Still, Gervais/Merchant fans can rest assured knowing that the DTV label applied to their idols' latest work is based on its financial prospects alone, because in terms of quality, the movie is an absolute cracker.
Facts of the Case
The film opens in 1973, in the small English town of Cemetery Junction. Freddie (Christian Cooke, Doctor Who), Bruce (Tom Hughes, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll), and Snork (Jack Doolan, Mercy) are three friends in their early twenties, each with different perspectives on their current lives. Freddie has just been employed by a high profile life insurance firm in a bid to avoid the same factory grind that his father (Ricky Gervais, Ghost Town) has to endure. Bruce is enchanted with the idea of leaving Cemetery Junction but makes no active effort to do so, spending his days fighting, chatting up girls, and disrespecting his own drunkard father. Snork is the goofiest of the trio, and thinks that as long as Freddie and Tom are around he'll be fine. Freddie feels that the firm offers him hope of the big house, fast car, and loving family that he one day wants, the head of the company Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes, Clash of the Titans) providing him with a rags to riches role model. However Freddie begins to understand that in this business morals are second to sales; and as he slowly falls for his boss' ambitious (and soon to be married) daughter Julie (Felicity Jones, Flashbacks of a Fool), Freddie begins to suspect that leaving Cemetery Junction might be the only way to attain what he truly wants.
Cemetery Junction is a film punctuated by several very strong performances, particularly those coming from Christian Cooke and Tom Hughes. Both actors have a limited amount of experience in the field, yet each acquits himself wonderfully in Cemetery Junction. Cooke permeates an angst ridden charm and Hughes steals the show with his rebellious yet internally conflicted turn, both men bringing vitality and truth to their respective arcs. Thanks to these sublime performances and the strength of Gervais and Merchant's confident script, Cemetery Junction is both an emotionally poignant and witty slice of British filmmaking; a hard double act for any production to successfully pull off. As Snork, Jack Doolan gets saddled with the more conventional Gervais/Merchant material, acting primarily as the film's comic relief. It's a performance lacking the depth of Hughes and Cooke's work, but there are still inspired moments for Doolan to grab onto, not least an impressive and hugely funny musical performance at a stiff and serious dinner dance. Ralph Fiennes is a tad wasted in a part that approaches caricature, but Emily Watson (Punch-Drunk Love) is heartbreakingly touching as his long suffering wife. The actress finds a deep sadness and sense of self mourning as she depicts a woman whose soul Cemetery Junction has squashed, thus acting as a notable foil to the adventurous leading characters.
The screenplay resonates with an honesty that suggests it could almost be autobiographical, telling the story with an obvious affection for the era it is set in. The soundtrack is filled with skillfully selected retro inclusions, demonstrating that Gervais and Merchant have just as strong an ear for music as they do for visual composition. Cemetery Junction is an unusually beautiful looking British flick, the filmmakers having basked the movie in a warm and upbeat glow. The cinematography is so good that it actually makes Cemetery Junction look like a nice place, an element that actually brings an added dose of individuality to the characters. Instead of all wanting to escape their home because it's a notable shit heap, the characters all need out for personal reasons and a desire to grow and become adults on their own terms. This separates each of the screen entities clearly, and adds an extra layer of humanity to proceedings.
The film juggles several subplots well, including a fun romantic arc between Cooke and a cute Felicity Jones. Cemetery Junction is definitely more interested in supplying a strong sense of dramatic purpose than slathering on jokes, but the film still finds more genuine chuckles than most studio comedies. Ricky Gervais helps as he tackles the minor role of Freddie's beleaguered father with typically devilish comic timing, whilst even Merchant makes a fleeting but giggle worthy cameo. The film boasts a degree of emotional heft, but none the less remains a frothy and lively means of escapism. Cemetery Junction never succumbs to cliché yet things conclude on a predictable note, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. After all each character has his arc finish on a note that should satisfy audience perceptions of said figure, meaning that whilst the denouement is obvious, it's also going to fulfil and gratify viewers who go along for this marvellous ride.
Given the fact that studio execs clearly lost faith in the product somewhere along the way, it's a pleasant surprise to see Cemetery Junction getting such a credible DVD release. The disc comes with a healthy amount of supplementary material, including two commentary tracks. The first with the directorial duo is the more enlightened and funny, but the other with Hughes, Cooke and Doolan does offer an obvious enthusiasm for the project and an unquestionable admiration for the men behind it. Neither is overly stuffed with filmmaking trivia or insight, but I'd say both are worth a listen. There are also two featurettes that mirror the commentary tracks, one hosted by the directors and the other featuring the three young leading actors. There are predictable overlaps with these and the commentaries, but there are also enough new nuggets of information to justify indulging in these too. Rounding out the disc are a selection of amusing deleted scenes (running for over 13 minutes) and a blooper reel that scores a few good laughs.
The video quality is terrific, really capturing the beautiful cinematography and presenting it as atmospherically and gorgeously as possible. The image quality benefits from extreme clarity, resulting in one of the best standard-def transfers I've seen recently. The audio is also strong, allowing the soundtrack and dialogue to maintain a robust balance, but also giving the delightful musical accompaniments centre stage during a few montage sequences. Technically this is a very sturdy release.
Cemetery Junction is an excellent film, one that deserves to find an audience on DVD. The movie has all the ingredients to become a cult favourite, but in order for that to occur, people need to have faith in the filmmakers and seek it out. Let's hope they do so.
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