David Brent: Life on the Road Review

Something I need to make clear before I get into the meat of this review is that I have never seen any episodes of the British version of The Office, the series this film is a spin-off from. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to but I haven’t got around to it and I am more familiar with Ricky Gervais from his film career and the shows he’s made with Karl Pilkington and the only thing I’ve seen with the David Brent character is the Equality Street video released for Comic Relief a few years ago. With that said, it meant I went into this film with a clean slate, with no connection to any other material with David Brent, and I have to say I don’t think it was for me. When the film focuses on the drama, it is effective, especially when it focuses on Brent’s social life, but as a comedy the film just doesn’t work.The film takes place 13 years after The Office and is framed as a re-visitation documentary focused on David Brent who is now a cleaning products sales rep. Wanting to fulfil his aspirations of being a successful singer, Brent cashes in his pension and uses the money to fund a series of gigs for his band Foregone Conclusion around the Slough/Reading area, with the hopes of securing a record contract. However, the concerts we see are complete catastrophes due to the actions of Brent, ranging from explaining every song before he sings them to embarrassing dancing to sexism, his antics resulting in resentment from the other band members, especially rapper Dom Johnson, who actually is talented but is being held back in his career by his association with David Brent. The biggest problem that is faced by the film, especially since it is being advertised as a comedy, is that I rarely laughed during the film, I think I only laughed once during the whole film, honestly I laughed more watching the trailer for Sausage Party which aired before the film started than I did in the actual film. There are plenty of moments in the film that made me cringe but none that really made me laugh. However, the dramatic moments in the film actually work pretty well. When the film focuses on David Brent as a character rather than as a vehicle for jokes, the film gets compelling, showing how insecure Brent is, fearing that he doesn’t have any real friends or connections with anyone and afraid that his life has no meaning and that his appearance on The Office was the peak of his life. It creates some great heartbreaking moments for the character, showing how Brent is putting himself in a dire financial situation for the vague promise of something better in his life. However, the film doesn’t commit to this idea of Brent and how he alienates everyone around him, copping out of showing the harsh reality of what Brent did in favour of giving him somewhat of a happy ending, even though a lot of elements of this ending contradict what we’ve seen throughout the rest of the film, especially with the relationship other characters have with Brent, with there being no hint of this change in character throughout the film.

On a performance level, the film is pretty solid. As David Brent, Ricky Gervais is strong, being completely absorbed into the character, as is to be expected of a character that he has played for 15 years. He shows Brent as someone unwilling to accept failure and the misery he faces in his life on a personal level, someone who is using immaturity to hide his own sadness and is unable to notice any meaningful relationships he has with people. There is also a cringe factor to Gervais’ performance, one that is entirely intentional to show how alienating a character David Brent is, but at some points these two aspects of the performance don’t mesh with each other. As the other lead in the film, Ben Bailey Smith does a good job as Dom Johnson, showing that he is a talented musician and the resentment he feels towards Brent for holding him back and being associated to a musician as bad as Brent. The other performances are solid, showing a mixture of frustration and begrudging respect for David Brent, although the two sides of most of the performances never mesh together in a way that feels natural.

It kind of feels like Ricky Gervais wanted to have his cake and eat it too with this film. On the one hand he wants this to be an effective comedy where we laugh at the misfortune of David Brent and see him as a figure of ridicule. On the other hand, he also wants the film to show the downside of Brent’s personality, showing how lonely it can be and as much as Gervais tries, these two aspects of the film simply don’t mesh together creating comedy moments that are not funny and dramatic moments that, whilst effective, don’t feel earned and, especially regarding character relationships, contradict what was presented earlier in the film by the end.Simply put, the film doesn’t work.

My Rating: 2/5

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