I didn’t grow up in a cold, grey, wet council estate in inner city Manchester in the 80s dreaming of escape. In the world of my imagination, I in fact grew up in a small town in America, in the 70s, far cooler than I actually was, driving round in a souped-up car, smoking Lucky Strikes, pulling girls who wore flares and listening to Led Zeppelin. And so it is for so many of us here in Britain. The world of our youthful imaginations find affinity in the depictions of Americana’s finest coming of age movies, be it the small town of Richard Linklaters’ Dazed and Confused, the rebellious New York nightlife of Saturday Night Fever, the angry, misunderstood cool of James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, or the mourning of lost childhood innocence and freedom in 80s flick Diner. And of course, the are the high school movies of John Hughes, classics like Ferris Beuller Day Off, the Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink. Nowadays, there’s Judd Apatow, of course. I could go on, but you get the idea....
We don’t do that here. Youthful rebellion, escapism, struggling to hold onto one’s dreams in the face of a cruel, uncaring world have always been depicted in grim, tragic terms, the “kitchen sink” dramas of the 60s, like Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (think Shameless without the comedy and sense of fun), or, more recently, Shane Meadows’ This Is England. For Americans, growing up can feel good, but on this side of the Atlantic, does growing up always have to be grim?
For the makers of Cemetery Junction, Ricky Gervais and his lanky cohort Stephen Merchant, the film came out of a sense that we could compete on an equal footing with the Americans. Thankfully, the results are beautiful, and joyous. The story revolves around three friends, first of all, Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke), a handsome, sincere young man whose life is changing as he starts a new job working in door to door life insurance sales, after escaping from the factory his dad (Gervais) works in. Then there’s his friend, good looking bad boy Bruce Pearson (Tom Hughes), an angry young man who is popular with the ladies, quick with his fists, and likes a drink, not unlike his alcoholic father, with whom he often clashes. Finally, there’s Snork (Jack Doolan), the loveable loser of the bunch, who is a big miss with the ladies, and provides a lot of the comedy with his efforts.
While they go out, chasing girls, and getting into fights, their lives are changing, as Freddie realises he needs to leave the larking about and “grow up”, taking his new job seriously if he’s to have any chance of escaping his humble working class background. Things take a turn for the unexpected when it turns out the bosses daughter is none other than his childhood sweetheart, Julie, who is engaged to his new mentor at work, Regional Manager Matthew Goode, an evil misogynist who prays on the fears of the people he sells life insurance to.
As for Julie, she’s trapped in the backwards sexist attitudes of the time, given the old-fashioned values of her parents and husband to be, so when she shares her dreams of seeing the world with Freddie, sparks fly for both of them, and Freddie realises he needs to leave Reading to follow his dreams, rather than spend 40 years in a job he despises.
While the couple provide the romance of the piece, it’s Bruce that provides the heart, as his carefree demeanour hides a great deal of anger. While he spends his days working the factory, outside work his childish antics often take a turn for the worse. He constantly clashes with the local police, regularly ending up in the cells, while constantly taking his anger out on his father, all because he did not standing up to the man who his mother had an affair with.
Bruce dreams of leaving his dead-end life, but never does anything about it until Freddie says he’s had enough. Meanwhile Snork, dreaming of meeting foreign girls who won’t understand his terrible chat up lines, and leaving his job at the local railway station, Cemetery Junction, agrees. But will they, or won’t they find the courage to leave their small town lives behind?
While Cemetery Junction provides these likeable, familiar characters, who we care about, and a plot that feels familiar, there no major surprises or upsets, it’s the experience that makes it worth watching. In the end, Cemetery Junction is like those train journeys on sunny days you experienced as a child. Nothing unexpected or bad happens, the sights are nice, and it leaving you with a warm, good feeling inside. And given that, in Britain, the feelgood movies we do have usually involve the affluent, upper middle class world inhabited by characters played by bumbling toffs like Hugh Grant, to see the lives and dreams of ordinary people celebrated in a joyous, glorious manner, is very refreshing indeed.
Hack Rating: 4/5