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David Brent: Life On The RoadUnited Kingdom 2016
Directed by Ricky Gervais
Running time 95 minutes
Synopsis: Fifteen years after the small screen mockumentary that made him a household name, David Brent is working as a sales rep for Lavichem, a company that makes toilet products. He’s just as clueless as ever but the new twist in his story is that he’s decided to throw everything he has at being a rock star. Needless to say, for such a grotesquely uncool individual, this is not going to go well.
As writer, director and star of David Brent: Life on the Road Ricky Gervais threatens to become the Woody Allen of cringe humour. One can only hope that, unlike Allen, he quits while he’s ahead. Although Gervais has had a productive, if mixed, transatlantic career since the success of the BBC television hit, The Office, its “star”, David Brent, an unprepossessing prat with a nervous whinney of a laugh and a pitiful need for validation, remains his signature character
Fans of the series won’t be disappointed with the film which effectively reproduces its fly-on-the-wall style. Brent has swapped office stationery for personal hygiene products and post nervous breakdown he’s a mere sales rep these days but he’s got the same line in crushingly off-colour jokes and a pathetic desire to be the centre of attention. Fortunately after about twenty minutes the new twist in Brent’s story kicks in and we set off on tour with his band, Foregone Conclusion, them in a bus and him following in a sedan. As one expects, the tour is an unmitigated disaster as audiences stay away in droves and Brent even has to pay his own band members to drink with him.
Whilst much of this reproduces the squirm-humour that characterized The Office, Gervais has softened his treatment of Brent, perhaps indicating a mainstreaming tendency acquired from his time in America. Thus, Brent is given a couple of female admirers in the Lavichem office and the film wraps with a begrudging admiration for his willingness to “live the dream”, misguided as that may be. It skews the uncompromising tone that characterised the television series and frankly is no more believable than the idea of Brent’s band-for-hire.
As with Allen, there is always the question of where David Brent leaves off and Ricky Gervais begins. Which is why I hope that the writer/director/star doesn’t, Brent-like, over-stay his welcome. Despite Gervais's spot-on performance, unlike the television series there is little-to-no dynamic between Brent and the other characters and although Gervais gives Brent an off-sider in the form of mixed-race rapper, Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith), he makes little use of him either musically or dramatically. And while the Brent/Gervais-penned songs are excruciating in their ham-fisted self-importance, only one about handicapped people really stands out for its perverse wit. In other words David Brent: Life on the Road stands or falls with the Brent character and his wince-inducing manner.Notwithstanding, Gervais's film is often very funny and while you don’t need to see it on the big screen, if you're looking for laughs you’re not likely to go wrong with it.