Monday, October 04, 2010

Cemetery Junction Surprisingly Full of Life

When I first heard the title Cemetery Junction my mind immediately jumped to zombies brought back to life by some ancient tribal curse with a little necrophelia thrown in for good measure (I'm really surprised there isn't a lot more dead sex in all these zombie movies these days.)  When it turned out to be a coming of age dramedy written and directed by the great Ricky Gervais, I wasn't sold on the idea.  When I think "Ricky Gervais" I immediately think "fucking hilarious" and "irreverent" and "witty" not "intense drama."  But being the true talent that he is I had no need to fear that the movie would lack consistent tone and a strong heart.  What Cemetery Junction lacked in sex with fresh corpses it completely made up for with excellent writing, a strong cast, and a nostalgic look back at 1970's England. 

The story basically follows three friends in their early twenties on the precipice of change.  Growing up in a small town they have an extra chip on their shoulders to match the one they carry from their fathers.  Freddie (Christian Cooke) is looking to escape the small town curse and try to make a name and life for himself by working for an insurance company.  Bruce (Tom Hughes) is a highly intelligent young man who could make a life for himself outside of the local steel mill, but seems intent on fucking things up for himself through excessive booze, barfights, and run-ins with the local fuzz.  Brucie-boy also has some very big, very unresolved issues with his father who he blames for letting his mother get away.  Snork (Jack Doolan) is the lovable retard of the group (every group of friends has one).  He's the guy who you're not sure why he's your friend, and you pick on for being stupid or ugly, but if somebody else attacks him you'd pound the other guy into a bloody pulp to defend him.  Snork lacks that something in his brain that helps him pick up on the subtle social cues the rest of us impicitly understand and who just wants a steady job and to get laid now and again.  As Freddie starts to succeed a little at his new job he falls in love with the boss's daughter Julie (Felicity Jones) who inspires him to "throw his heart out in front of him" and start living life the way he wants to.  As Julie is already engaged to a complete asshole Freddie and his two best friends decide to leave town and start travelling in search of themselves, but nothing ever turns out like you planned, except for the cliched ending of a coming of age movie, a conceit I was more than willing to forgive (overlook?) in this case.

Fuck, my plot summaries always end up dragging on way too long.  I suppose brevity was never my strong suit.  "What," you may ask yourself, "if anything does that have to do with Cemetery Junction?"  Nothing really, but the problem with reviewing a really good movie or a really bad movie is that one tends to run out of things to say after "This movie was fucking awesome," or "This movie was complete and utter dogshit."  I am happy to report that this movie definitely falls into the "fucking awesome" category.  Right off the bat as soon as I hear the name Ricky Gervais, my immediate gut reaction is to love whatever is associated with that name.  The Office alone earns him my Lifetime Respect Award which entitles him to A) stay over at my house whenever he wants and B) me automatically purchasing any movie and/or TV series with his name attached to it (when it goes on sale, of course).

Anywho, back to the task at hand.  Cemetery Junction was a really nice surprise right in the middle of a movie-watching slump.  That is to say that after watching a whole host of shitty movies recently (with the exception of Inception of course) my faith in movies was slightly restored.  It really had the perfect mix of drama and comedy with a little dash of "guy and girl face adversity but get together in the end" thrown in for good measure.  It really spoke to me for a couple of reasons.  One, I grew up in a small town so the whole idea of feeling trapped in a life of mediocrity no matter how talented or intelligent I might be struck a chord.  There's this weird magnetic pull that I find occurs more with people from small towns where they feel compelled or drawn to whatever shithole burg they were from no matter how much they hated it.  There's a certain fatalism that develops and people get caught in this cycle of living in the same place as your father, doing the same things as your father, and working the same job as your father like it was inevitable or some shit.  Being a janitor or a gas attendent is all well and good if that is the extent of your talents, but if you are one of the priveleged few who has been given the gift of intelligence then I believe you have an intellectual responsibility to contribute to the general development of humankind and not throw your life away because it feels comfortable or safe.

The second reason I really connected with this film is that idea of being at a major crossroads in your life and feeling like you're at the end of an era and feeling more lost than Lindsey Lohan in a spelling bee.  It's what I like to call the Smith Factor, referring of course to Kevin Smith's epic movies Clerks and Clerks II where the characters are in their 20's and 30's respectively and trying to figure out what the fuck to do with their lives.  The reason I think that sentiment resonates is because like so many young men of our time I have no idea what I'm going to do either.  I think that a lot of people from my generation have that sense of listlessness due to widespread disillusionment that cultivates a deep-rooted cynicism that is afflicting people at a much younger age these days.  We don't just walk into the family business get a wife and push out a couple kids.  There's no longer such a thing as a family business to step into and the myth of automatic stability granted by the Nuclear Family has been dispelled.  There isn't that same sense of purpose that our parents and grandparents had, that was engrained into them.  We no longer "establish a career" we just "work at a job until we get laid off or something better comes along."  I think Gervais really tapped into that sense of cultural and emotional disenfranchisement when we learn that life and the classic ideal of "progress" is a load of bullshit and a great deal of time spent in that strange realm known as "real life" presents very little emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

Having the three main characters portrayed by relative unknowns (definitely Ricky Gervais' MO) was a good move that really paid off.  Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan have a great chemistry on screen together and all the nuances of their particular group dynamics are brought out masterfully.  Ralph "call me Ray" Fiennes was great as the asshole boss/disconnected dad and husband.  Matthew Goode was equally goode (nope, not a spelling mistake biatch) as his asshole underling/asshole soon-to-be-son-in-law.  Emily Watson also put in an excellent performance as the emotionally-beaten down housewife.  I've been a huge fan of Watson ever since I saw Equilibrium and The Boxer and she continues to impress.   

The thing that really makes this movie work though is that it has heart.  That and the use of the word "cunt" which the British seem to love and which I've been trying (without somewhat limited success) to increase the usage of here in North America.  Mom's been a tough sell, but I think I'm starting to break through to that cun... ningly wonderful person.  Bottom line: if you love good movies you'll like this one.  I give Cemetery Junction a 9/10 = One Youthful Head With a Perfectly Quaffed 70's Head of Hair


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