The Review: So far, so predictable for the output of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The Office, Extras and their podcasts all mine a very similar, and very contemporary, vein of humour. It also feels as if Gervais brings more of the jokes and Merchant more of the emotion – that may go some way to explaining how last year’s The Invention of Lying turned out so horribly misjudged.
If that’s the case, then maybe this is more Merchant than Gervais, as this is their first period piece. Set in the Reading of the seventies, this is very much a coming of age story, with several different narrative threads focusing on the challenges that face us as we enter adulthood – changing friendships, starting work and the first tentative steps towards romance. There are subtle differences in the humour of each, but the three strands are satisfyingly woven together.
Gervais and Merchant wisely take something of a back seat in the acting stakes, Merchant taking a brief but entertaining cameo, and Gervais helping to fill in the family of Freddie, the lead of the three young men at the centre of the movie. The family, also featuring Julia Davis and Anne Reid, add both a warm core to the movie, in their bigoted Seventies way, and also give a narrative impetus to Freddie’s desire for something different. Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson get the best of the grown-up roles, using their considerable skill to sketch in what could have been slight roles on the page.
And if there’s any criticism to be made here, it’s that the whole enterprise does feel both slight, almost as if it was made in the Seventies and has lain undiscovered until today, but also slightly jarring, as some of the language, while no doubt as common then as it is now, does feel somewhat out of place with the overall tone. And while there are no major surprises and everything is wrapped up very neatly indeed, the trip to Cemetery Junction is still one worth taking.
Why see it at the cinema: The direction does actually get away from the static camera moves of the pair’s previous TV directing efforts, and the Seventies environment is very successfully realised.
The Score: 7/10