x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cemetery Junction

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Cemetery Junction is by turns miserablist, heartwarming and clichéd ¿ but where are the laughs?

Cemetery Junction
Directors: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Starring: Tom Hughes, Ricky Gervais, Christian Cooke, Ralph Fiennes

When Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant announced they were making their first foray on to the silver screen together, undoubtedly most assumed it would follow the same well-worn path the comedy-writing duo have successfully trodden for more than a decade.

Throw together a socially awkward David Brent-a-like middle manager, a round-headed buffoon in the same mould as Karl Pilkington and perhaps even a celebrity type playing themselves in an unlikely manner, and watch the laughs (and money) roll in.

So when Cemetery Junction had its first preview screening, there must have been a few raised eyebrows. For starters, it's not particularly funny, the characters aren't really believable - in that way they so perfectly were in Gervais/Merchant's TV work - and at no point does the dialogue have you cringing in amused despair.

Set in Britain during the early 1970s, Cemetery Junction - a real life district of the UK town Reading, but also a metaphor in the film for a dead-end existence - follows three working-class mates in their early twenties with differing ideas on how to shape their miserable lives.

There's Freddie (Christian Cooke) - a dashing chap looking to escape the cul-de-sac of despair by becoming an insurance salesman and eventually working his way up to the "Big Three" - house, wife, car (not in that order).

Then we have Bruce (Tom Hughes), an angry young man who likes nothing more than drinking, fighting and girls, and has consigned himself to a life toiling in the factory (seemingly over the same bit of metal) and swearing at his good-for-nothing father.

Finally, meet Snork, the "funny" one (a legal requirement for any cinematic trio); a chubby guy in a silly hat with a tendency to scare off all women with his opening gambit.

Everything looks settled in 1970s-era joylessness until Freddie meets his pretty childhood sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones), now carrying a camera, a copy of National Geographic and with a head full of silly thoughts about seeing the world - things that don't fit well with her fiancé, a man with a clear idea about a woman's place in life.

It's all very heartwarming, but just so clichéd that by the end you're unlikely to give a hoot whether any of the characters achieve anything at all. The era is well-researched - right down to the Sony Trinitron TV and dull-coloured wallpaper - but the trio appear to tick too many well-worn boxes - dreamer, diamond in the rough and joker - for it to be either believable or funny.

Gervais makes an appearance as Freddie's perma-vested dad - a miserable individual used as an outlet for a few Gervais-ish Brentisms - but it's just not enough to have anyone laughing out loud.

The town itself, supposedly the standard bearer for all things miserable, actually looks quite charming in most of the shots, bathed in implausible sunshine and the sort of very Englishy place you can imagine Richard Curtis flinging an open-topped car or two.

Such is the prolific nature of the two, Merchant and Gervais are unlikely to hang up their film-writing quills after Cemetery Junction. Let's just hope that they focus on making us properly laugh next time.