Ricky Gervais’s directorial debut, The Invention Of Lying was a comparative flop and there were concerns that perhaps Ricky doesn’t have what it takes to bring his talents to the big screen. Thankfully, with writing partner Stephen Merchant, those concerns are answered as Cemetery Junction is a slickly directed, sharply written comedy drama that would do anyone proud.
It’s 1970s Reading and Freddie wants to get on with his life and make something of himself. He’s fed up of Saturday night drinking and fighting with his two best mates – sneering cop-baiting troublemaker Bruce and feckless but well-meaning tubster Snork.
He lands his first job with an insurance company run by steely-eyed businessman Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes – is he going to be in every film this year?) and has his eye on his beautiful but smart daughter Julie who just happens to be engaged to his immediate superior Mike, a Mr. Kendrick in training.
But as he comes to the realisation that that’s not who he is after all and that his dreams of leaving town and seeing something of the world are quickly evaporating.
It’s a remarkably well-judged film – a delicately directed balance that paints a cautionary tale that never lectures. And while it is funny, it’s the moments of touching humanity which make the film stand out and will stay with you the longest – a scene between Bruce and his father is perfectly executed to tug on your heartstrings without becoming maudlin.
It’s scenes like this which remind you why shows like The Fast Show and The Office are better than Little Britain – an affectionate pathos for the characters, rather than simple mean-spirited finger pointing.
This is helped by an excellent cast of relative unknowns. Christian Cooke is a solid lead – affable and well-meaning, he’s the straight man that the other characters revolve around and Jack Doolan as Snork is incompetent and bumbling whilst still remaining believable.
But special praise must be singled out for Tom Hughes whose performance as Bruce is incendiary. He’s an angry young man, sneering at authority and venting his frustrations and fears that he might end up like his washed-out single dad, unaware that as he does so he grows ever closer to becoming the man he despises.
The dialogue is sharply written and is as crisp and sparkling as anything Gervais has ever written but occasionally comes across as too slick to be natural – several times you can catch Freddie spouting lines which could just as easily come out of Gervais’ mouth.
It’s also let down by a desire to give everyone a happy ending at any cost, a love story between Snork and a café girl who accepts his faults (and his ridiculous tattoo) unequivocally is almost laughably awkward.
But these are small gripes for a comedy drama which is engaging, funny and heartfelt in equal measure and a welcome return to form for Gervais. Highly recommended.