Published on August 18th, 2016 | by Allan Brown0
David Brent: Life on the Road Review
UK Release Date: 19 August 2016
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Ricky Gervais
Writers: Ricky Gervais
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Doc Brown, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon, Rebecca Gethings
It has been fifteen years since Ricky Gervais first graced our screens as everybody’s favourite loveable twerp; David Brent. From the moment The Office aired back in August 2001, the show went on to become an overnight global success, not only giving birth to a new type of single camera, forth-wall smashing, situational cringe comedy – free of laughter tracks, but brought to life who is now one of the most loved and celebrated characters in
British comedy… EVER
Having been steadfast on their less is more approach, co-creators Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais have always followed their favoured formula when developing a sitcom. This has normally been presented as two seasons and a Christmas special to tie off all the character arcs and narratives. Despite this, Brent has popped up from time to time over the years, but it was his dramatic return in March 2013 in the BBC comic relief special; The Office Revisited, that really energized the publics hunger for the character all over again. A website called “Learn Guitar with David Brent“ soon followed, and not long after, Gervais announced he was developing a big screen venture that would catch up with the old brentmeister general some fifteen years after the events of The Office. Well ladies and gents, for good or for bad, the boss is back – David Brent: Life on the Road.
From the opening shot, Gervias has you in the palm of his hand
Having been made redundant at the end of the series, Brent now works as a sales rep for the hygiene products manufacturer Lavichem. The majority of his co-workers have little time for his childlike banter or intrusive behaviour, save for fellow sales rep Nigel (Tom Bennett), who sees Brent as a kindred spirit and something of a role model; receptionist Kaz (Mandeep Dhillon), who feels somewhat sorry for him; and Pauline (Jo Hartley), who seems surprisingly smitten, which of course Brent’s oblivious too.
Taking two weeks of unpaid leave, Brent plunges himself into serious debt by hiring a band, a sound engineer and booking a series of gigs around the Slough and Reading area to pursue his destiny – as he sees it, of becoming signed Rockstar. Despite all the venues lying within just a few miles of his home, Brent splashes out on a lavish tour bus and hotel rooms for all, in what he calls “the full package”. However as expected, the tour does not go well, but for Brent, “failure is not an option”.
From the opening shot, Gervias has you in the palm of his hand, as Brent once again fills the screen with all his usual quirks. The side glances, the acting up to the camera, the gurning and his complete lack of self-awareness are all present and correct, as he delivers the premise to this fifteen year follow up to The Office.
there are moments of real tenderness here, allowing Gervais to showcase his emotional range to devastating effect.
The narrative here is pretty simple and follows a similar route to the 80s mock-rockumentary This is Spinal Tap. However, Brent aside, and unlike Spinal Tap or The Office, there just aren’t
enough any defined characters like Tim, Dawn or Gareth here to apply any kind of depth or character substance to the film, or indeed for Brent to play off effectively. The band all think Brent is a joke and therefore do not converse with him, and despite the frequent cutaway interviews they give on this matter, they never come across as anything other than one dimensional caricatures, only there to serve as a reactional presence to Brent’s nonsense. Brent says or does something off kilter, the camera cuts to the band or the audience who give the obligatory look of embarrassment to the camera, dumbfounded by what he has just said, as the camera cuts back to Brent who is oblivious to it all, and so this formula continues over and over again. Even Doc Brown aka Ben Bailey Smith in the supporting role is criminally underused, again only present for reactional purposes, and this unfortunately hurts the film. Sure, it is often hilarious and Gervais is on point with Brent throughout, but there just isn’t enough depth or variety here to warrant an hour and a half of the same tired scenarios for the big screen, which begs the question; would Life on the Road have been better suited as another television special?
The third act also feels rather forced, band members who despise Brent for ninety-five percent of the film, and are explicit about it, – in fact that’s about all their characters contribute, suddenly change their opinion of him out of the blue and without sufficient character development for it to feel natural or anything other than crowbarred in. The concert element of the film may also leave some fans cold. The lyrics are often laugh out loud, but the arrangement to almost every song is bland and unimaginative, becoming increasingly tiresome and repetitive with each passing performance.
That’s said, there are moments of real tenderness here, allowing Gervais to showcase his emotional range to devastating effect. We all know Brent means well, yes he is ignorant, and yes he is stupid, but everything he does or says has no malice in its intent, and is only ever fuelled by him wanting to be popular or liked by others, and Gervais once again plays it to perfection. There are several fleeting moments in the third act were Brent is at his lowest, he is surrounded by people who don’t like him, and who don’t want to be around him, and in one beautifully realised scene, his carefree façade slips letting emotion engulf his being as he is reassured, he is “liked”. As with the final episode in The Office were Brent tells Chris Finch to “fuck off”, this one scene changes everything, as it presents Brent as a real person, with real feelings. These fleeting emotional moments creep-up on you when least expected, and as a result, are extremely hard-hitting, which is a real revelation in amongst all the usual shlock. And then there’s that beautiful ending, something Gervais seems to absolutely nail, every single time.
Summary: Gervais is on top form as Brent and it’s an absolute riot to have him back, but the new playground that he has created for him this time around, just isn’t as rich or as colourful as it once was.