Most people only know Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from the UK version of “The Office.” And when you think of Gervais/Merchant, you often think of what I took to be their stand-ins on that show, David Brent and Gareth Keenan. What most people don’t consider, however, is that Gervais and Merchant were also responsible for one of the sweetest television romances in sitcom history, that of Tim and Dawn. But when you see Gervais and Merchant on television or listen to their podcast, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that they were even capable of it.
Cemetery Junction, however, strips out all of comedic stylings, uncomfortable pauses, and affectations that most of us associate with Gervais/Merchant, and leaves behind the simple sweet earnestness that we associate with Tim and Dawn (and later, Jim and Pam). It’s a small, quiet story — modest in scale, and adoring without being sentimental. It’s a well made, unassuming and warm semi-autobiographical coming of age story set in the 70s.
The movie centers on three unknowns who live out in the middle of bumfuck England, and the story itself is a long-form silver screen version of every other Mellencamp song. Freddie (Christian Cooke) wants to better his life, jump socioeconomic classes, if only incrementally; he doesn’t want to bust his hump in a factory for the rest of his life like his old man (Gervais), so he aspires to something more, but only just so: A suit-and-tie career in insurance. His boss (Ralph Feinnes) is a nasty, callous old-school dick-bag who believes that doing good by his wife (Emily Watson) only means buying her a nice dress and telling her to shut the fuck up. Freddie is also enamored with the boss’ daughter, Julie (the lively and radiant Felicity Jones), who is essentially trapped in a relationship with a man (Matthew Goode) just like her father, destined to repeat her mother’s cycle.
Meanwhile, Bruce (Tom Hughes) is the good-looking bruiser, works in a factory, hates his drunken father, and has been threatening to leave their shithole town for years, but has never found the courage to do so. Freddie and Bruce’s best friend, Snork (Jack Doolan), is your typical dim, fat-guy Nick Frostian comic relief, who is not as concerned with bettering himself as much finding a girlfriend that will have him.
There are no huge moments in Cemetery Junction, and I think that’s why I liked it as much as I did: It doesn’t aspire to much other than being about three guys trying to escape their dead-end futures. The comedy scenes with Freddie’s family, and Gervais, feel a little shoe-horned, but the humor comes from a real place: They’re racist people, stubbornly set in their ways, and completely lacking in ambition, either for themselves or for Freddie, and much of it actually rang true in your racist-grandparents sort of way.
However, once Cemetery Junction dispenses with the obligatory scenes for the trailer with Gervais, it finds its own breezy rhythm and blossoms into a quaint, heartwarming movie that neither tests nor insults your intelligence. It’s a comfortable movie about nothing and about everything, where the pathos seeps in and takes hold. It’s a shame that Junction skipped straight-to-DVD over here in America, but then again, it’s a movie with the kind of homey vibe that suits watching it on your living room television.