Taking inspiration from Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" lyric "It's a town full of losers/I'm pulling out of here to win," Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's debut feature Cemetery Junction makes a bid to join the ranks of such coming-of-age classics as Breaking Away, Diner and Rebel Without a Cause. It doesn't achieve those heights, but it's a pleasant, often funny, and occasionally poignant effort. It hasn't made much of a splash on big screens (foregoing them almost entirely in America), but the picture is hardly an embarrassment. It's just that Gervais and Merchant, co-creators of the classic Britcom The Office, have set the bar high for themselves after their beloved television work, such that a somewhat generic, sort of pedestrian comedy-drama cannot help but disappoint a little.
Set in the summer of '73 in Reading, Berkshire, England, Cemetery Junction concerns three friends at—well, whaddaya know—a crossroads (a.k.a. a junction). The title refers to a combination train station and shopping center that's at the center of their frozen existence while providing a potential escape from it. They can feel the generation gap narrowing, and it's scaring the living daylights out of them. Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke) intends to leave working-class life behind by succeeding at his new job as a salesman for Vigilant Life Assurance Company. Rebellious Bruce Pearson (Tom Hughes) claims to be content working in a factory, scoring with birds, getting in fights, and generally drinking away his nights, but his recklessness indicates unresolved anger issues, directed at his divorced father (Francis Magee). Dim-witted, unmotivated Paul, known by his nickname Snork (Jack Doolan), leads an unexamined life in the wake of his willful friends. Freddie may find unexpected inspiration from his old school sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones), who turns out to be the daughter of his boss (Ralph Fiennes) and the girlfriend of his jerkily ruthless co-worker (Matthew Goode). Bruce just might find a way to come to terms with his dad. And maybe, just maybe, Snork will accept the blessing of the sweet local girl (Bryony Hannah) who's sweet on him.
As a story, it's all very programmatic, with a script that's not detailed or subtle enough to finesse its broad brushstrokes. On the brighter side, it's a film of moments, most of which belong to Fiennes in a surgically effective comic potrayal of a funereal man who's intimidating, self-centered, blithely nasty and more than a little sad (the "Winner's Ball" sequence constitutes a master class in subtle facial gestures and vocal cues). As his spouse, Emily Watson also puts in typically sterling work demonstrating the quiet desperation of a housewife who has yet to benefit from feminism. All three of the young leading men are well cast and give the script their all, but but their obvious storylines never give them much of a foothold to do truly memorable work. What ultimately makes the film recommendable is its consistent pleasantry. Though clichéd, the living room and kitchen scenes with the nattering, bickering Taylors are certainly amusing (Gervais plays Freddie's working-class dad and Anne Reid his racist gran), as is any appearance by David Earl as Brian the café proprietor. Steve Speirs of Extras and Burn Gorman of Torchwood provide nice turns as the local constabulary, and the soundtrack again displays Gervais and Merchant's shared good taste in music.
Wanting to like a movie is, of course, no substitute for actually liking it. Little would please me more than being able to report that Cemetery Junction is a work of genius from the celebrated comic minds of Gervais and Merchant. Rather, Cemetery Junction is a humble riff on the well-worn coming-of-age film. It's not bad, it certainly has its moments, but it distinctly lacks the spark to set hearts afire.
Cemetery Junction looks fantastic in its hi-def Blu-ray special edition from Sony. The studio has built a well-deserved reputation for top-of-the-line transfers, and this rendering of a brand new film is no exception: clean, crisp, and colorful, the image doesn't lack for detail and texture, while contrast and black level are spot-on. Sound is equally impressive in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix that gives full body to music and fine attention to immersive ambient detail while never neglecting the clarity of the well-prioritized dialogue.
Fans of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant will not be disappointed by this fully stocked special edition. First up is an audio commentary by co-writers/co-directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Anyone who's ever listened to the duo's podcasts knows how well these two know their way around microphones and how breezily entertaining they can be. here, they strike a nice balance of fraternal joshing, general wisecracking, and serious discussion of directorial intent, casting, and production. Also included is a somewhat less scintillating but nevertheless welcome audio commentary by stars Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan; the newcomers aren't as fully at ease as their directors, but they do a nice job in their own right of sharing anecdotes and kidding around.
The commentaries get their pithier video equivalents in "The Directors: A Conversation with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant" (15:07, HD) and "The Lads Look Back: The Stars Discuss Cemetery Junction" (10:14, HD). These definitely deserve a look, as do six Blu-exclusive featurettes. The first of these, "Seventies Style: Production and Costume Design" (8:44, HD) features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Gervais, Merchant, production designer Anna Higginson, Cooke, Hughes, Emily Watson, Felicity jones, sotume designer Ruth Myers, Ralph Fiennes, and Doolan. It's followed by four "Production Featurettes" (6:45, HD), which appear to be vlog posts; participants include Gervais, Merchant, Cooke, Hughes, Doolan, Jones, Fiennes, Watson and Goode.
In addition to the customary Sony features movieIQ and BD-Live access, you may find a highly amusing easter egg dubbed "Snow Dude" (4:30, HD).
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