Monday, 19 April 2010
Cemetery Junction (Ricky Gervais; Stephen Merchant, 2010)
The Truth of the Working Class
My problem is this - why is everyone so unhappy? Gervais, playing Freddies Dad, is constantly bickering with his Mum - all very funny, but worryingly knocking the 'dreams' Freddie has at every corner. Freddies housewife Mum who hasn't 'seen parts of Reading', while Bruce's Dad is a lonely alcoholic - finally we come across Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode, as Mike Ramsay, who - although successful - clearly have mixed morals. One sequence shows Goode convince an elderly couple into a life-insurance deal and Fiennes character doesn't even say 'thanks' for a cup of tea - so clearly they are unlikable characters. Nevertheless, this is clearly not an accurate depiction of all working-class men of the seventies in Reading. I've said it once and I'll say it again - we need more films like Five Easy Pieces rather than another pseudo-inpirational tale aking to Rocky. Gervais shows how Tim, though stuck in his office job - a job he doesn't like so much - he effectively does so for Dawn. Dawn has her own art which she is forced to not focus on through Lee - even David Brent, though a complete plonker, lives for the attention he craves. The simplistic attitude that 'all you have to do is get on a train and get out of town' is short-sighted. Freddie was leaving to 'travel' - akin to Julie's cousin - but how on earth can he do that? How can he afford it? He does have the confidence to probably blag a job here and there - but you follow the simplistic story through and you realise that, ahem, maybe not.
And I hate writing this - I hate the fact that this is actually the type of thing people (me?) write to stop themselves from achieving their passion. People convince themselves that they 'can't get out' of whatever town or family or situation that pulls their dreams into focus. Personally, I am hoping that the passion and constant chip, chip, chipping away at my goal is what will take me there. I know what Gervais is trying to say about breaking free - my family chastised me when I was to train to be a teacher (because I already had a job so should 'stick at that'). Hardly a risky profession to 'break in to', but I still had to win people over to do it. Fact is, I am in a profession whereby I am constantly surrounded by passionate kids and surrounded by Art - every day I draw and I also have the time in holiday breaks and weekends to write and watch whatever film I'd like to. So far, I am in a position to pursue my goal outside of teaching - but I have not reached it. (NB-the goal is anything that constantly keeps me involved in cinema - writing about it, making, it, viewing it ... you pick...)
A Comparison with An Education [Spoilers for both An Education and Cemetery Junction]
A film, which I feel would be a superior counterpiece to Cemetery Junction, is An Education. Both set in the hazy glow of the seventies and sixties respectively. Both use these time-periods to raise current issues. Both protaganists Freddie and Jenny (Carey Mulligan) know that there is 'more to life'. Interestingly, both Freddie and Jenny want to go to Paris - and yet come face-to-face with characters who back-hand their wishful thinking. Obviously, as each film progresses, the outcomes are completely different. In An Education Jenny, with the assistance of creepy David (Peter Sarsgaard) - gets to explore Paris and the hub-bub of London - even demanding her Headmistress to explain what the point is of her education if she will only end up in a life that is 'hard and boring'. Freddie on the other hand is working that 'hard and boring' life as a life-insurance salesman - Bruce moreso as a sander in a factory - Freddie finds it difficult to 'break free' - but he does and he gets the girl. End of story. The complexity I miss in Cemetery Junction is the issues that are raised in An Education during the final act. We completely stand by Jenny and her views - no one wants to live a 'hard and boring' life - that is not the point of it all. But Jenny's desires get the better of her and she invests her life in David - who, we find out, is having an affair. David is married and, potentially, had no intention to support Jenny. Jenny breaks down - she could have gone to Oxford but, because of this passion for perfection, with the assistance of David, she blows it. Well not really, the last five minutes - the worst in the film - give An Education that happy ending we want poor Jenny to have.
Fact is, it is that separation of blind-ambition and true-passion that provides the conflict in An Education whilst in Cemetery Junction, it is unclear what Freddie wants to do with his life - if anything, it doesn't matter - he just wants to 'explore'. I think everyone wants to 'explore' the world but for some, it takes many years of saving up and preparation. I think in seventies Reading, witht the cost of flying and all that, Freddie could get to Brighton and then he can'g go further.
One thought crosses my mind. Gervais - who truly is an inspiration - says how this is the most personal project he has worked upon. Gervais had parents much like the ones portrayed in Cemetery Junction and he himself was brought up in Reading. But one thing that inspired his writing of The Office was many years - something like eight years - he spent working in an office. Personally I have never been in a job that long - but I am well aware of how you can get comfortable very easily in some jobs. A more complex angle would be to show Freddie at a point when he is fimrly at Mr Kendricks' Life-Insurance company - more like Matthew Goodes character - but over the course of the film realises how he never 'took a risk' and the conflict is whether he will take that risk to pursue his dream, whatever that might be. I am sure films like this has been made before, but with this unique Gervais-tone, it would bring a special uniqueness to the tale. Fact is, someone who has nothing to lose at the start of the film doesn't really lose much by the end of the film by 'breaking free'. I think thats the crux of it - from the very start, you know Freddie could and would do better. You know Fiennes is sinister. You know prospects in Reading are slim. So, the tension over whether he will leave Reading isn't there. Of course he'd leave Reading - who wouldnt! (and from spending a year there myself ... I would agree. 'The Oracle' is not exactly 'the place to be'). The complexity would lie in showing the attractiveness of this comfortable job - the potential family and happiness that people do and could find in a steady income. The twist being, Freddie has a special talent of passion that he needs to embrace 'before its too late'.