"The 11 'o' Clock Show"
"Meet Ricky Gervais"
"Night at the Museum"
"Night at the Museum 2"
"The Invention of Lying"
All fine but if that was his CV he would not be as widely praised and highly regarded as he is. It is his work alongside Stephen Merchant that has set Gervais apart as a writer, director and performer; "The Office", "Extras", "The Ricky Gervais Show", "The Ricky Gervais Guide To..." and now "Cemetery Junction" are all work that stands head and shoulders above the other pieces I mentioned.
I think it is down to how the two men work together with Gervais himself explaining that they have a "one veto" rule where nothing goes in unless both men believe in it. The result is, perhaps, that certain parts of Gervais character are kept in check and a more modest and believable product is presented to his audience.
One thing that I adore about "The Office and "Extras" was that they were not ordinary television comedies; they were beautifully observed slices of life with all the humour that is found in the everyday and all the love, romance and pain too. The work of Gervais and Merchant has a Romantic and idealised vision of England at its heart too and "Cemetery Junction" contains all of these elements.
Set in the year I was born, 1973, the film starts with a sun-kissed England and Vaughn Williams playing in the background...it is a stunning and beautiful start to the film and from there the two men do a terrific job of (re)creating the world of 1970's Reading. The story centres on the lives of three young men, Freddie, Bruce and Paul (Snork) as they come to terms with their lives as adults; working, loving, fighting and daubing signs with vulgar drawings!
Like the "kitchen sink" dramas of the late 1950's and early 1960's this film explores the ideas of hope, escape and family. Bruce lives at home with his drunk, unemployed father who he despises for allowing his mother to leave with another man. Neil has started working as a life assurance salesman and battles with the small town mentality of his mother and father. Snork (Paul) is just a bit daft and doesn't share the concerns of his two friends but is desperate to find "someone".
It's obvious fairly early on what is going to happen with each of the gang but the lack of complexity in the plot simply makes it easier to lose yourself in the world that has been created and to allow yourself to enjoy instead of analyze. Gervais and Merchant have shown that they are not simply excellent writers or excellent television directors but are talented directors and writers in any medium...although, for me, it has to be Gervais AND Merchant.