David Brent: Life On The Road is the new offering from comic Ricky Gervais, who writes, produces, directs and stars here. The film chronicles the latest events in the sad life of David Brent, the lead character from hit Brit comedy The Office.
This fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking, with side characters talking directly to the camera to talk about the lead character and sometimes engaging with it during action, requires a delicate balance of suspended belief and ‘false’ reality to maintain credibility. The show managed it, but does David Brent: Life On The Road achieve this balance? Well, in a nutshell: not really. The central character is just a little bit tired and sad – the tears of the clown have well and truly fallen.
The film picks up on Brent’s life quite a few years after the show’s finale. We find Brent working as a salesman for a line of tampons. His backstory is one of pain, having suffered a nervous breakdown, gained (and lost) a ton of weight and been medicated on Prozac after losing his managerial position. But Brent has soaring ambitions: he has cashed in his pension funds to finance his dream of rock stardom, touring Britain (or a small portion of it) and hiring musicians to pretend to be the latest incarnation of his youthful band, Foregone Conclusion – all while on leave from his day job, of course.
The movie starts off well and has energy. It also has a good number of laughs; it is somewhat funny, at least at the beginning. The problem is that it all starts to wear a bit thin. The film has a bit of a paint-by-numbers feel to it. Lead character offending someone (read: everyone) after a nervous laugh? Check. Characters reacting with deadpan faces and eye rolls to said offense? Check. Requisite sexist, racist and homophobic references? Check, check, and check. David Brent even manages to offend the physically disabled, in a particularly torturous song sequence. Again, yes, it can be kind of funny, but it can also be cringe-worthy and highly repetitive. Gervais only has a limited number of tricks in the hat for this character, which unfortunately have already been pulled out ad infinitum in the TV series.
David Brent is a pathetic, but strangely endearing character. He is like the kid in the playground at school who is constantly trying to ‘buy’ friends with money and food because no one will talk to him otherwise. Brent tries to buy the respect of the musos in his hired band, but they despise him – going to the extent of banning him from the tour bus before the tour has even begun, and making sure he always has his own dressing room at the various dives they play at. The supporting characters are all pretty wooden, existing only as satellites revolving around the lead.
But what surprised me was the level of pathos in the character: obviously it is a comedy, but it veers dangerously into weepie territory. It is like looking down the rabbit hole at the shriveled soul of a man deadened by suburbia, desperately trying to make some meaning of his life and constantly trying to break into the cool crowd. This can be funny, but it can also be annoying: sometimes you just want to slap him. Gervais tries to turn it around at the end and redeem Brent a little, but it feels too late. It’s all a bit depressing, which is surprising for a comedy – and I’m not entirely sure this was Gervais’ intention.
Overall, David Brent: Life On The Road has its funny moments, but the viewer is left with the overriding impression of an over-flogged character battling to sustain a whole movie. The ultimate question: is Gervais a one trick pony, only able to sustain a career on the strength of this one character? If this movie is any answer, then that could very well be the case.
This might be one just for the hardcore fans.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10