Despite all manner of protestations to the contrary, Ricky Gervais decided to bring back his first comic creation David Brent for a big screen outing. I suppose that fans of The Office will happily lose themselves in Brent’s world, but it is a mixed bag that a viewer could hate as easily as they enjoy.
This mockumentary catches up with Brent (Ricky Gervais), the former manager at Wernham Hogg, who is now a sales rep dreaming of stardom. He takes a holiday to tour with his band Foregone Conclusion, but is greeted by low ticket sales and he finds the band members are less than enamoured with his company and pretensions. He is also accompanied by Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith), a rapper whose musical talent far outshines that of Brent. As the tour continues, and continues to go poorly, Brent is encouraged to think about his own future.
I approached this film somewhat hesitantly – I’ve only ever seen snippets of The Office, and I never found them particularly funny. Similarly, I find Gervais a bit of an off-putting presence – his teasing of Karl Pilkington always guarantees comedy gold, but otherwise, I’ve never really found him funny. As such, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this film, or find it quite as funny as I did.
The film uses a lot of cringe humour – Brent’s awkward and ill-advised comments are coupled with an inability to know when to stop, and this results in a lot of laughs and a lot of squirming in your seat. It works because it is very funny, but also because there is nothing mean-spirited in it. It starts of in this vein, in Brent’s new office, and we are treated to some very well-written observational humour that sets a bar the movie doesn’t hit again.
When we get on the road, we tend to follow the same pattern repeatedly and it stops being funny very early on – we’re essentially watching the same thing five or six times, with minute differences. There is a lot of time spent on musical performances, and the music is decent (the lyrics are more played for laughs), but you wish the movie would just get on with it half the time.
That is the big problem affecting the film – it is very much a Ricky Gervais vanity project (as well as starring in it, he wrote and directed it), and as a man who wanted to be in a band when he was younger, the line begins to blur between Gervais the actor and Brent the character. Partway through, we are treated to a wonderfully narcissistic scene in which Brent has himself professionally photographed – we’re treated to stuff like this throughout. As a result, it doesn’t feel as though Brent goes through any meaningful character arc, and his ending is unearned.
As a result of Gervais’ focus on himself, all the other characters are underwritten. Smith has the most substantial other role, but he is essentially a caricature of someone hip and cool. There is a band full of people whose names I don’t remember, whose characters just sit and say that Brent is terrible, and a whole assortment of others who haven’t lingered in the memory.
David Brent: Life on the Road is well-made and it has some decent laughs, but on the whole, it is unmemorable. It misses the influence of Stephen Merchant – Gervais has full control, and the movie is very much a one-man show that would have benefitted from developing the other characters and not repeating the same gags all the time.
Director: Ricky Gervais
Cast: Ricky Gervais (David Brent), Ben Bailey Smith (Dom Johnson), Rebecca Gethings (Miriam Clarke), Abbie Murphy (Serena Wilson), Mandeep Dhillon (Karen Parashar), Jo Hartley (Pauline Gray)
Running Time: 96 Mins