Typically, this column offers a few choice cuts from the week's releases, but this week's selection goes out to one film that's so puzzling, so rich with possibilities both fulfilled and left for dead that it merits some breathing room of its own. Cemetery Junction is the new film written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant — the creative team that originated The Office on BBC. It's set in Gervais' UK hometown of Reading in the folksy, go-nowhere district the title is named after. It's also set in the era of Gervais' youth: 1973. It's a warmly photographed, expertly soundtracked (Gervais and Merchant began their careers as radio DJs) piece of nostalgia about a trio of young punks ripped in different directions. Hefty Snork is an unlucky-in-lust rail announcer; brooder Bruce spends a shocking number of nights sleeping off drunkenness in prison; and Freddie (played by the rising Christian Cooke) just got a job as an insurance salesman. All of this, and the knowing script, sets up what should be a nuanced and touching Billy Liar—esque throwback to the British New Wave … except that it's not. While Junction hits the standard coming-of-age, get-out-of-this-podunk-town hallmarks, and usually quite well, Gervais and Merchant always seem to be holding back genuine wit and heart like overprotective parents. The film's glances at the inner workings of door-to-door sales at the time never develop into real insight and the love story between Freddie and his boss' daughter comes out of nowhere and stays there. Perhaps this is why the film never saw theatrical release in the States — a shocking vote of "no confidence" by distributor Sony, considering the team's popularity here — but despite its many flaws, the makers' intentions are pure and their craftsmanship keeps Junction at an inoffensive, fairly pleasant pace. As a love-hate letter to his youth, Gervais may have gone too heavy on the sour and too light on the sweet, but there are worse things (Night at the Museum) he could do with his talent. (available now)
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