Published Apr 9 2010, 16:30 BST | By Stella Papamichael > Interview: The stars of 'Cemetery Junction'
After going high-concept in Hollywood with The Invention of Lying
, Ricky Gervais
comes back down to earth for Cemetery Junction
and, specifically, his hometown of Reading. He also stays in the background as the frowning dad to an ambitious yet sensitive life insurance salesman (Christian Cooke) at the very start of his career. Still, it feels close to Gervais's heart, brimming with nostalgia for sunny days and japes with the lads. The comedy is bittersweet too, but that could be the influence of co-writer and co-director Stephen Merchant, his old cohort on The Office
As the serious-minded Freddie, Christian Cooke keeps just the right side of boring and at times he even has an air of the rebel James Dean about him, so his sensible life plan to "climb the ladder" at a local insurance company seems off the mark. Conversely, best pal Bruce (a brooding Tom Hughes) throws all of his energy into outdoing Dean, constantly getting into scraps and even picking on his own dad who's done little except get drunk and watch telly since mum walked out. Then there's Snork (Jack Doolan), the fat and unintentionally funny one who can't get a girlfriend. You've seen guys likes these before, but maybe that's the point.
It's a cosy picture of early adulthood with Freddie, Bruce and Snork knocking around the neighbourhood, farting on each other's faces and painting knobs on billboards. They're typical lads getting up to the sort of trouble that Gervais and Merchant brought into The Office
with a slightly more sophisticated approach (e.g. setting a stapler in jelly). But Freddie thinks it's time to leave childish things aside and, what's more, Bruce's violent temper threatens his reputation. He's intent on impressing the boss who's played with hilarious nouveau riche arrogance by Ralph Fiennes. His after-dinner speech to a retiring employee is one of the stand-out funny moments.
Of course this wouldn't be a coming-of-age story without a heavy dose of romantic torment as well. In this case Freddie has a thing for the boss's daughter, Julie (Felicity Jones), but she's engaged to his high-flying colleague Mike (that's Matthew Goode doing his insufferable toff routine). Though Julie is a smart cookie with ambitions of her own, inevitably she isn't quite smart enough to see through Mike's veneer of respectability. All of these underlying tensions and conflicting interests are standard and the characters are mostly archetypes, though Gervais does go out on a limb as Freddie's dad, spouting casually racist remarks in authentic '70s style. Other than that, the film is completely (almost defiantly) conventional.
Apparently Gervais and Merchant are trying to make a virtue out of ordinariness, but with less of the subversive humour which characterised The Office
. They still have the knack when it comes to balancing the tragedy and comedy of a situation and because they aren't always aiming at a punch-line, this is more heartfelt in some ways. A subplot involving Snork and a local café waitress is thrown away for a cheap laugh, but Freddie's relationship with Julie is dealt with tenderly and his friendship with Bruce feels just as significant in his journey of self-discovery. Of course, if we look back on the old days with honesty, it wouldn't be so sunny all the time, but this film is totally (and successfully) engineered to generate that warm feeling.> What do you think of the movie? Share your views