Brent is back!
We are 15 years removed from it now, but The Office was a hugely successful show, launching the impressive careers of Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davies, and, of course, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Back in the summer of 2001, the mockumentary about a small SLough based paper company aired on BBC2, written and starring a relatively unknown Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. This was at the height of the “docusoap” genre, with Maureen from Driving School and Jeremy Spake from Airport having become minor celebrities due to the TV audiences desire to see real people on their screens. Obviously in 2016 the idea is totally played out, and any semblance of reality has been removed from any of the “reality” show that stuff the schedules of ITV Be and the like.
The Office was perfectly timed though (along with the excellent but now largely ignored People Like Us), and became a huge success after some low ratings on its first showing. It ended with a fantastic two part Christmas special (pretty much the highest honour a British sitcom can get) and won two Golden Globes (for Best Comedy and Best Comedy Actor), at a time when it was almost unheard of for a British show to even get a nomination. There were numerous international remakes (and rip-offs) including an incredibly successful US version starring Steve Carrel, which took the story far beyond the two series run of the UK original.
One of the most memorable episode of The Office featured Gervais’ David Brent slowly taking over an intended training day, eventually getting a guitar and giving an impromptu (and almost universally unwanted) concert of some of his “tracks”.
The Christmas special then revealed that Brent had spent his redundancy pay-out on releasing his own single:
And this is how Gervais has managed to bring his most famous creation back. David Brent is still working as a bloody good rep for Lavichem, but still harbours his rock star dreams. So when a documentary crew wants to do a catch up with him, Brent sees the chance to publicise his upcoming tour. With classics like this, who can blame him?
The problem is that Brent is as delusional as ever. His “tour” is actually just a series of gigs in the Berkshire area, his band Foregone Conclusion (Mk. 2) think he is a joke, and he has cashed in his pension to pay for the whole thing out of his own pocket. As the gigs predictably sell no tickets and embarrassing incident follows embarrassing incident, can Brent survive life on the road?
As you can tell from my introduction, the set up to the film is very simple. Although it seems strange since he was the main character, this definitely isn’t an Office movie, and takes the character in a different, more personal direction. Brent does have an office base, but the majority of the film takes place on tour, and this takes away the “reality” element that made the TV series so easy to relate to. Everyone has had an annoying workmate or boss (or is one…), not everyone has been to a gig with a band playing to an empty room (although some of us have been in the band playing to an empty room). That relatable comedy is replaced by a series of hilariously unsuccessful concerts. The songs are musically great but thematically ridiculously funny – a song about selling “my shack in Memphis” and “moving down Mexico way” plays out over footage of Brent driving down the M4.
The lead singer-session musician relationship is not quite as easy to skewer as the boss-worker one, but there is still plenty of mileage to be got from the crossing of boundaries and Gervais’ excellent performance. By paying for these younger musicians to hang out with them, there is a more explicitly tragic edge to Brent in Life On The Road. However, with this being a single feature film rather than multi-episode TV series, some of the other characters are little more than thumbnail sketches. A fellow rep is just a bully, the band are almost wholly unlikable, and the receptionist is probably what Dawn would have been if we only saw her for 3 minutes instead of 2 series of character development. Also, the fake documentary format allows you to get away with some characters explaining certain elements of the story, but it is slightly overdone, with rapper Dom Johnson (the excellent Doc Brown/Ben Bailey Smith of Wittertainment) explaining probably once too many times that Brent is actually an alright guy, even if he is an idiot.
However, these are all simply nit-picking issues. This film is very, very funny. Steve Coogan has made Alan Partridge more successful and likable as time as gone on, but David Brent is just as much of an idiot as ever. His vulnerability makes him more human, but you still can’t help but cringe at just how ridiculous a human he is.
If you are a fan of Ricky Gervais, The Office, or the Christopher Guest mockumentaries that clearly influence this film (I half-expected someone to tell the band one of their songs was on the charts in Japan), you will absolutely love this. A well put together series of farces, Brent builds silly misunderstandings into toe curling spectacles. Although the resolution feels a bit rushed, I’d definitely recommend this as one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year. It’s not Alpha Papa or The Inbetweeners when it comes to transplanting a TV show to the big screen (its actually way more ambitious in its scope than that) but it certainly is a very humorous and enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.
David Brent: Life On The Road is in cinemas now.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
Like what you’ve read? LIKE us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our newsletter by filling in the form below! That way you’ll never miss another review, fan cast, or general ramble from your favourite Ushers!
Or, why not have a listen to our latest Podcast?