David Brent: Life on the Road (2016) Review:

Director: Ricky Gervais

Runtime: 96 minutes

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Doc Brown (as Ben Bailey Smith), Tom Basden, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): A camera crew catches up with David Brent, the former star of the fictional British TV series The Office (2001), as he now fancies himself a rock star on the road.


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Some things never change. People will always bicker and argue over political matters, Slough is the hive of all things important in the world and David Brent remains as insufferable as always. Set fifteen years after the events of The Office, David Brent: Life on the Road follows the titular character on his grand tour of Berkshire. Sales rep by day, rock-star by night.

Brent always had illusions of grandeur, thinking that he was always more than just the boss of Slough’s Wernham Hogg. He saw himself as a father figure of the office, a comedian, a poet, a rock-star. An entertainer. We all watched and recoiled in horror at his attempts of entertainment in The Office, screaming at him to just stop talking for once. Some things never change. Fifteen years later and Brent has moved on from Wernham Hogg. He now works as a sales rep, not far away from his days at Wernham Hogg. He is still deluded by illusions of grandeur.

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The film opens on the road. David Brent is seen driving between sales meetings, shilling his wares of personal products. The song in the background is one of his own creations, a song that sets the mood and scale of the production. The song explains what life on the road is like for Brent – a trail of small-town Berkshire and coffee pit-stops. It’s never particularly exciting, but Gervais’ humour has always been rather low-key and dry. The joke is that David Brent thinks he is something great, but in reality he’s just a little annoying. He’s always been that way, but with Life on the Road, we get to see him try and do something about it.

His tour of the Berkshire region is make-or-break, he’s saved up for years and tapped into his pension funds to make it happen. Foregone Conclusion (incredible band name) have to go out and prove that their failure isn’t erm, a foregone conclusion. The trouble is, Brent (although a decent vocalist), doesn’t make for a likeable frontman. He explains everything. The people on-screen are in as much pain as the audience watching the film. Please David, just stop talking! It’s cringey, yes, but at times hilarious. Seeing the pain etched into the band’s, crowd’s and sound mixer’s face is brilliant. It’s great to see that we, the audience are not alone in our pain.

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Once Brent explains the song in overt detail, the tune starts. The music is half decent, the singing is pretty solid, the vocals are not. He wants to inform, he wants to entertain and he wants to rock your socks off. That’s ambitious. Tracks range from the epic Don’t Make Fun of the Disabled to a Wikipedia entry about the Native Americans. The source material is enough to worry about, but the vocals confirm your worst fears. He doesn’t know how to carry a message, making the results are hilariously misjudged. “Don’t make fun of the disabled, whether mental in the head, or mental in the legs”. He can’t say that, can he?

The songs are great, and provide the meat of the film’s laughs, of which there are plenty. If you’re not a fan of cringe, David Brent: Life on the Road is not for you. I’m personally a tad partial to the old cringe, so found plenty to laugh at across the 96 minute runtime. I also found a surprising amount of emotional moments. For all his flaws, Brent remains a likeable enough chap, with the idea seemingly that he tries far too hard to entertain. There are some particularly touching moments within the film that are unfortunately, a little too easy to predict. Some jokes, too, are a little too predictable. It’s a shame, and I think the film would’ve benefited from the interplay in writing between Gervais and Merchant.

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I was disappointed, too, to find that little effort had been made to transfer the world of David Brent onto the silver screen. There are no cinematic moments to be found, no matter how small, and I can’t quite shake the feeling that Life on the Road would’ve been just the same as a TV special. Perhaps again, Stephen Merchant could’ve added a bit more flair to proceedings as co-director. It didn’t make the most of the occasion.

Summary:

David Brent: Life on the Road is an enjoyable enough affair, with some great songs, hilarious moments scattered throughout and a nice, if slightly predictable plot. It won’t knock your socks off, but you’ll have some fun with the film. I’m glad we got to catch up with David Brent, despite some shortcomings.

3.5/5

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