October issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 14 years ago

“Much smaller story, but in their heads it’s epic,” says Stephen Merchant, who has partnered with Ricky Gervais yet again to produce, write and directCemetery Junction. This one takes us back to Gervais’s hometown, Cemetery Junction, Reading, in the 1970s, but with HD cameras. It’s a story about three friends who have loud mouths and harbour a dream to escape and see the world. So if you don’t want to watch it for its soulful characters and loud-mouthed, wildly entertaining banter, watch it because it’s funny. And why wouldn’t it be with the number one stand-up comedian and award-winning Ricky Gervais on board.

By steering clear of a star-studded cast, Gervais and Merchant look to focus more on the characters and the plot. Newcomer Christian Cooke plays the lead character of Freddie, with John Travolta-like shiny hair and a burning desire to break free from his father’s blue-collar existence. The believable bit is that this burning desire is not a well-charted out plan or a clichéd small-town-boy-turns-billionaire sort of story; it is more of an itch to pursue exciting prospects. Staying true to his upbringing, Freddie doesn’t look too far: he finds a job in Cemetery Junction’s only insurance company, owned by Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes). Freddie’s two best friends Bruce and Snork, played by Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan, share his spirit — but in their own unique way. Bruce, a factory worker, comes from a broken home and has pent-up rage which spills over ever so often, resulting in broken noses and stints behind bars. Snork is the odd one out — he does not share his friends’ good looks or their ambition. A geeky, podgy guy who drives girls away with his “uncharmliness,” Snork is loved by his friends. So here’s the story: Mr Kendrick’s daughter Julie is betrothed to Mike (Matthew Goode), who happens to be a reflection of the cold and slimy Mr Kendrick himself. Sparks fly when Freddie meets Julie, an old flame, but much to their chagrin, their love seems doomed.

Cemetery Junction is intentionally clichéd, as is revealed in the end when Julie and Freddie confess they didn’t have to run so much to catch the train since another one would depart in an hour anyway! Heart-warmingly simple, the movie shares the cleverness of Gervais’s hit TV series, The Office.

We also delve into the mindset of small-town folk in the ’70s, with the lounge conversation between Freddie’s dad (Gervais) and his grandmother on “half-castes” being neither black nor white and hence not fitting anywhere. Also visible is their glaring ignorance, when they comment on the “pot-bellied” Ethiopian babies on TV and then the line Gervais says he took from his own childhood, when his mother asked him why he wanted to see the whole world when he hadn’t even seen Cornwall yet.

In conversation with rottentomatoes.com, Gervais says, “The best footballers, the best fighters, the ones who got a girlfriend first — now they’re bald and stacking shelves.” Gervais, an ardent fan of The Simpsons, has injected that feeling into this movie: a feeling that one must want more in life.

This review originally appeared in the October issue of Newsline under the title of “Dreaming Big.”

Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.