David Brent: Life on the Road, 2016
Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais
Starring Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Ben Bailey Smith, Tom Basden, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon, Abbey Murphy
A camera crew catches up with David Brent, the former star of the fictional British series The Office, as he now fancies himself a rockstar on the road.
“I don’t give shitty jobs…” – the famous first words of David Brent, manager of a successful paper merchants in Slough who have invited a documentary crew into their lives for a few months to chronicle their day-to-day. A beautiful, monumental and hilarious classic was born, gobbling up award after award, spawning many different versions and making superstars of its unknown cast. Our fascination with it continues, not least with Brent who’s cataclysmically awkward grasp on life is what makes us flock back repeatedly to re-discover his “genius”.
The biggest worry many had going into Life on the Road (this writer included) was that any effort to bring Brent back to our screens was always going to be shouldered with heavy responsibility (rightly so) after the supreme and continued success of The Office. Gervais himself had always maintained that his wonderful, timeless show was finished indefinitely with no chance of going “back to the well”, but if anyone from the show was going to return it was probably going to be Brent as the fascination with such a loveable clown is too much to turn down.
For the most part LOTR is funny with Gervais seamlessly stepping back into the drab grey suits and goatee with the glee and gusto you would expect. Indeed the fresh spin on Brent works particularly well: unshackled from his history at Hogg he is given a new, energetic lease of life in much more colourful surroundings selling toiletries as he still yearns for his shot at showing the word that Texas knew of his talents. Indeed the music in the film, while as misjudged as ever, has much merit and is delivered with such gusto and bravura that you find yourself singing along whilst Brent breaks down cultural divides, race, religion and Christmas. And like The Office, Gervais is backed up my a strong supporting cast, with excellent turns by Ben Bailey Smith (who steals the film with is funniest joke), Tom Basden and Jo Hartley as they all wrestle with the whirlwind madness that is our favourite Des’ree enthusiast.
That said despite some hugely chucklesome moments you can never shake the fact that it feels that you are watching much of what has gone before. Gervais does infuse new energy into proceedings for sure, humanising Brent poignantly with notes on his battles with depression and anxieties post-Hogg, but for the most part it’s a shadow of what it once was, almost like watching a greatest hits tour of a band you love that should perhaps hang the guitar up before it taints what was once so wonderful. Furthermore with many television adaptations onto the big screen, it proves difficult to keep the film, and Brent, as entertaining and engrossing over 100 minutes than short 30-minute episodes, which causes a few moments of dawdling and dead air.
Perhaps it’s too harsh: The Office was perfect and anything that followed was never going to match it which brings us back to the question “Was it worth it?” – was it worth tainting such an iconic creation with another go around? For the most part it is for no matter how funny you find David Brent: Life on the Road, it acts as a suitably touching and amusing send-off to one of British televisions greatest creations who is still the man who put a smile on the face of all who he met.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★