Posted by: Dr P | April 25, 2010

Cemetery Junction

Have you ever wanted more from your life? Have you ever felt you could better yourself in some way? Maybe seeing your child smile improves your world – I know it does mine – or maybe you will only be satisfied when you’re walking in space? Or perhaps, if you’re from Rochdale, you feel there’s more to life than marrying your cousin. Whatever your attitude to self-betterment “Cemetery Junction” addresses those hopes and fears, and shows us the reality of working class England in the 70s.

Penned by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, masters of bringing us comedy with a harder edge, this is on one level an impressive movie, but it does suffer form some unpleasant moments too. The story follows a short period in the lives of three central figures, a close-knit group of young adults from the working class Home Counties suburb of Cemetery Junction: Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke) is the central protagonist, a young man desperate to free himself from the shackles of family life – his dad (Gervais) is a factory hand, and the family dynamic is one of desperation and grim humour. So Freddie seeks a job with an insurance firm, run by the humourless Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), a man who has escaped his own upbringing in Cemetery Junction and is therefore an inspiration to Freddie.

Freddie’s best mates are Bruce (Tom Pearson), a typically arrogant, angry young man whose idea of a good night usually ends in being locked up in the cells. He has no respect for his father, and blames him for his mother leaving them. The third member of the group is “Snork” (Jack Doolan), the geeky, daft member of the trio, who has little social skills and constantly puts his foot in it. He’s desperate for a girlfriend, but with seemingly little chance of getting one.

Initially his mates are sceptical of his ambition, but as Freddie starts to gain a foothold in his job, the trio crystallise plans to break free of their surroundings. Freddie discovers that the boss’s daughter is his childhood girlfriend Julie (Felicity Jones), but any thoughts of rekindling their young romance is on the back burner. Julie is dating Freddie’s colleague Mike, an up and coming insurance salesman who is as dispassionate and uncaring of his clients and his relationship as Kendrick is of his own marriage.

The interaction and dynamics in the movie are utterly believable and eminently watchable. It’s all the better for Gervais only having a minor role, as he can often become overbearing and hard to watch. The younger stars dominate the scene, with Cooke and Pearson superb in their roles. The audience is drawn into the blossoming love story between Freddie and Julie, while we also come to learn a lot about Bruce, his upbringing, his relationship with his father, and the root of his rebellious nature.

Although at its core this is a coming of age story, it is also dramatic, funny, sad and moving in equal part. There are lots of truly superb laugh out loud moments, and also times when we’re pulled along for the ride and empathise with the characters and their various struggles and dilemmas.

There’s a magnificent moment at the annual insurance firm dinner, where Snork manages to get onstage and perform with the band – and then almost instantly ruins the feelgood mood he’s created with a random obscenity.. .about Noddy! It’s a cringeworthy and hilarious scene, and one which sharply brings home just how out of place the characters feel in their world.

Gervais and Merchant add a lot of period humour into the movie; one line which really amused me was where Snork and Bruce catch Freddie listening to a Vaughan Williams record, and breate him for listening to what is  in their view – “gay” music. “Stop listening to music made by poofs. Put some Elton John on!”  Within Freddie’s family, there’s also a gran who says totally inappropriate things – a bit like Catherine Tate’s Nan. She’s funny in an Alf Garnett sort of way – very funny lines but with an undercurrent of racism and homophobia that’s totally unacceptable in this day and age. Actually, that’s one downside to the film, there’s quite a lot of homophobia and while the writers may consider “hey, it’s 1973, it’s ok”, there’s probably no need to have included it, and some of the comments did take some of the sheen off what is otherwise a fairly polished big screen movie.

Overall though, the film is well worth a view and one which I came out of feeling pretty uplifted. More please, guys – just ease up on the stereotypes!

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