(Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, 2010)
A glossily warm coming-of-age comedy-drama set in a 1973 New Town suburb of Reading and therefore, presumably semi-autobiographical to some extent, Cemetery Junction never quite works.
The premise is classically familiar; three friends, stuck in dead end jobs, plan to escape, to travel, to live exciting lives elsewhere. They are near generic, stereotypical character types: the handsome, funny dreamer, the brawling bad boy from a broken home, and the oddball comic relief. Over the course of the simple narrative, each learns a lesson and grows as a person. It's that kind of film, deliberate, derivative of many better films, and possessing an almost painted-by-numbers quality in it's determination to hit each one of the expected narrative and emotional beats of the smalltown Bildungsroman.
Thats not to say it's without its pleasures; as one would expect of the creators of the sublime UK version of The Office and Extras on tv, there are some spiky character moments here, some finely observed instances of social tension, a few acutely textured scenes which feel true and real. While the three boys can be funny together in a laddish way, the best comic moments are provided by Gervais himself as the factory-worker father of one, casually racist, xenophobic and ignorant, squabbling with his mother over his own success while sermonising to his son from the dinner table. Ralph Fiennes is effortlessly fine as a quietly loathsome working class boy made good, Emily Watson does an awful lot with very little in perhaps five short scenes, and there are a few big laughs.
But the dissonances created by the style and approach are a massive distraction. Gervais has claimed that Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" was the single greatest influence on the film, and that sense of a mythic American angle on memory, youth and backwater lives fits oddly against the time and place depicted. Britain in the 70s was a troubled, grim place, and cinema generally portrays it as such. But here there is a warm glow of nostalgia, and despite the few gags mocking the assumptions and attitudes of the time, this is an unequivocally fond portrayal of the era.
It all ends with a mad dash to catch a train, a will-they-won't-they resolved, and great use of Led Zeppelins "The Rain Song".
Indeed, the brilliant soundtrack of 70s hits is perhaps the best aspect of the whole film; more movies should use "Crazy Horses" by the Osmonds.