I finally watched the British flick Cemetery Junction this weekend, another collaborative effort by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who wrote and directed it together. This one is much more serious than what they usually come up with, but still quite good. It was a simple enough story and one we’ve all heard in one form or another before: a young man, Freddie, grows up in a lower-class neighborhood, Cemetery Junction, feeling he’s missing out and struggles to find his own path. Not only have we all heard it, most of us have felt it. But that’s not to say it still can’t make for a good movie. He has 2 best friends, Bruce, the good-looking “bad boy” who’s chalk-full of angst and contempt for his out-of-work father and the town in which they live, and Paul, the overweight, slightly dim-witted sweetheart who’s constantly putting his foot in his mouth. All three male leads were likable and very easy to relate to. Christian Cooke (Freddie) and Tom Hughes (Bruce) played their roles very well, so well it took no time at all to find myself championing them in their journey.
Though the film revolves around Freddie, it’s Bruce, so passionately played by Hughes, who stole my attention. The evolution of his relationship with his father and the cop who’s always bailing him out of trouble held my interest every bit as much as Freddie’s story, which centered around his efforts to get a “real” job instead of ending up working in the factory where both his father and Bruce work. Freddie reconnects with a childhood friend, Julie, who is the daughter of his new boss. She also happens to be engaged to the guy who trains him at his new job selling insurance. Ralph Fiennes plays a small but important role as Julie’s father and I have to say, he’s so good at being the cold prick that I find it harder and harder to like him. Freddie and Julie have undeniable chemistry and similar hopes & dreams but she’s reluctant to give up the security her current situation offers. SPOILER: she and Freddie do eventually decide to leave Cemetery Junction and Julie’s fiancee behind them. I so wish Bruce would have left with them in the end, but other than that, I have no real criticisms. This is much more of a drama than a comedy, which is what we’re used to getting from Gervais & Merchant. And, though comedy is their greatest strength, they’re clearly above average in the dramatic arena as well. Overall, this flick isn’t as monumentally brilliant as The Office or Extras, but it’s well worth a watch.
In my opinion, what makes The Office and Extras and the best parts of Cemetery Junction work so damn well is their impeccable timing. Gervais and Merchant have this amazing sense of the rhythm of a story; they hook you early on so you’re fully invested in the characters and then string you along so that by the time they finally give you what you want – Tim’s gift to Dawn in the Christmas special of The Office that prompts her to leave her loser boyfriend for him; Andy’s heartfelt apology/confession to Maggie into the camera on that terrible reality show in the Extras Christmas episode; Freddie’s big decision to leave with Bruce and his endearing plea to Julie to accompany him in Cemetery Junction – you’re not only a little convinced it’ll never happen but you’re also so desperate for it, it draws tears from your eyes and gasps from your chest. Gervais and Merchant are funny, witty, and undeniably clever, but it’s in the timing of their storytelling that their ABSOLUTE GENIUS lies.