UK Release Date – 19th August 2016
Brent’s back, so…
The return of one of television’s greatest comedy creations – probably the best – had potential to corrupt the highly prestigious brand that is the aforementioned “Brent”. We walked into the screening with trepidation and scepticism but remained hopeful that Gervais would not tarnish the brush of the two ground-breaking series that he and Merchant had worked tirelessly to create. Without Ricky and Stephen at the helm, David Brent: Life on the Road had the makings of a standalone Gervais vanity project following on from the misjudged Learn Guitar with David Brent Youtube series. The resurgence of Alan Partridge in Alpha Papa had proven that it was possible to translate a successful British sitcom to the silver screen. But this is a whole different beast, perhaps more of a, y’know…
Luckily, we are more than happy to say that it was the most excruciating hour and a half we have ever had the pleasure to sit through. In Life on the Road, Brent has exchanged Wernham Hogg with an equally mundane office environment, but with a more vulnerable role of subservient rep. In an attempt to fulfil his lifelong dream of “entertainer slash singer songwriter”, Brent resurrects Foregone Conclusion with a new-look band, only to reap tragic consequences. The eight of us in the cinema (classic Sutton) endured cringe after cringe after cringe as Gervais replicated Brent’s idiosyncrasies down to a tee, not the caricature we expected. In usual form, he struggles through basic chit chat bringing up needless political hot potatoes in every encounter. In a painful one minute exchange, Brent rattles through homophobia, race, rape, and ageism in the company of an African American waitress and Doc Brown’s character, who stifles David’s well-meaning but ultimately idiotic jibes throughout.
“it is impossible to not feel sympathy for the loveable, well-meaning, but ultimately flawed twat”
Doc Brown and Tom Basden – acting as Dom Johnson, Brent’s protégé, and Dan, the disgruntled road manager – were necessary and effective audience surrogates suffering along with us and exasperatingly telling David to “just play the song” as he frantically soliloquises the plight of the Native Americans. That’s the cause that’s close to all of our hearts, so… With the exception of Nigel, played by Phoneshop veteran Tom Bennett, Life on the Road lacked the cohort of loveable characters that made The Office a cut above the rest. Without the usual suspects: TIM, GARETH, DAWN, yeah?, the film lacked a genuine emotional connection and, y’know, NEIL, and the glancing love story between the lead and his co-worker seems forced and somewhat lacklustre. So… KEITH!
The songs. Brent has a healthy back catalogue of them, what with the incredible ‘Freelove Freeway’ (which to our dismay did not feature at all), the successfully funny ‘Equality Street’ from Comic Relief a few years back, and ‘Lady Gypsy’, used as a promotion for the film with a jovial video akin to the ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ scene from The Office Christmas Special. However, the songs from Brent’s gigs seemed hell-bent on misinterpreting political correctness, such as kindness towards disabled people, and all were too much like ballads with little variation. Props to Ricky for writing catchy songs himself, but we were hoping for some “rock ‘n’ roll”, the lifestyle that Brent misguidedly tries to follow with his poor man’s Bruce Springsteen image to boot.
As the title suggests, David Brent: Life on the Road fails to extend beyond a one man show, but what a man he is. Over the years, Gervais has crafted such a perfect comic character that we can’t help but still feel completely invested in the next chapter of his melancholic existence. So believable and relatable is Brent that even at his most vulnerable it is impossible to not feel sympathy for the loveable, well-meaning, but ultimately flawed twat. Definitely one for the fans who have become accustomed to Brent’s buffoonery and watched through squinted eyes, not in a racist way, y’know, it’s natural, we all do it, black, white, brown, yellow, so… Brent impression aside, those new to the character may be left adrift and frustrated with the intensely awkward scenarios unrelentingly thrusted upon the viewer. As loyal fans however, we left satisfied that Merchant and Gervais’ magnum opus hasn’t been tainted. Quite the opposite, it merely strengthened the entity that is David Brent, even if there was a lack of scotch egg. And Finchy.
Different films, different… needs…
Image: eOne 2016