Does stating that a film is a coming-of-age story spoil the plot? Does it ruin the film for anyone about to watch it, because the majority of the potential suspense is going to be spoiled? To me, the answer to the first question is a “yes,” but the answer to the latter is a “no.” Yes, the majority of the suspense and surprise is gone once you learn that a film’s genre is coming-of-age, but that doesn’t necessarily ruin the film for its audience. Only the bad ones are ruined.
I wholeheartedly believe that good films will stay good on successive viewings. When you watch something for a second time, you already know the plot. Nothing should surprise you at this point. But good films overcome the inability to surprise by being strong in other areas, or by telling a story that is worth telling. In short, a film’s genre, or knowing how it ends, should not ruin someone’s experience, assuming the film is good to begin with. Cemetery Junction is one of those films that won’t be ruined by having a rough idea of how it ends.
The story follows three teenage boys, all with varying personalities. They’re friends despite these differences, and they all live in the town of Reading, Berkshire, in 1973. Our lead is Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke), who we see land a job as a life-insurance salesman. He doesn’t want to end up stuck working in a factory like his father (Ricky Gervais), or like one of his friends, Bruce (Tom Hughes). Bruce is the rebel of the group, smoking at all moments of the day, picking fights and bad-mouthing anyone he gets the chance to. The third member of the group is Paul (Jack Doolan), who is the somewhat stereotypical nerd character. he’s unsuccessful with females, and doesn’t appear to have anyone else to hang out with. He works at the train station.
After acquiring his job at the life-insurance agency, Freddie runs into an old friend, Julie (Felicity Jones). She’s set to marry one of Freddie’s co-workers, but she and Freddie, despite not seeing each other for ten years, connect. Not much is done with this relationship until the latter third of the film though, as we’re given plenty of time to get to know each character. Too much time, I would say. There are moments of the film completely devoted to developing the characters, but they neglect advancing the plot. The first two-thirds of the film is like this, while the final third has almost no character development (except for the aforementioned coming-of-age plotline), but at least has a story that we can follow and appreciate.
Once the story does get going, it’s interesting. Before that point, it’s still somewhat intriguing, but there’s little going on. Characters come and go, do their jobs, and just generally go about their lives. There are short scenes that have almost nothing to do with the overall plot or subplots of the film, but still serve two purposes. First, they show us what kind of characters we are dealing with. Secondly, they are usually quite humorous.
I’m generally fairly hard on comedies, but a film like Cemetery Junction is not a flat-out comedy. Instead, it’s a film that is a drama with comedic elements. These are often the best kinds of comedies, because it means that the jokes or one-off gags don’t interfere with the plot or the way the characters are expected to act. Sometimes comedies make their characters act in ways that don’t seem match up with what we’ve learned about them. Comedies that are more drama-focused don’t usually have this problem, and because of this they often come off as funnier.
The highlights of the film come from Freddie’s grandmother (Anne Reid), and his boss (Ralph Fiennes). The former gets a lot of laughs because she doesn’t act at all like you would expect a typical grandmother to be. She’s hardened and doesn’t take flack from anyone. Freddie’s boss gets chuckles because he is oblivious to a lot of the world, and because he delivers a really funny, yet poorly planned, speech, that was designed to announce the retirement of one of his employees. It’s incredibly awkward, but it also made me laugh.
Cemetery Junction is an example of a film that is pretty good, but not great. It’s entertaining, but also inconsistent in its delivery. The first two-thirds feel nothing like the final part, and this creates an amount of disconnect that makes the film seem like it isn’t a complete package. However, it’s still heartwarming, interesting and quite funny. It’s nothing special, but it’s a film that I had fun with while I was watching it.