In ‘David Brent: Life on the Road,’ Gervais’ Beloved Creation Returns But Disappoints

David Brent: Life on the Road

David Brent: Life on the Road (Photo: Screenshot)

LONDON—While millions of Americans fell in love with the sitcom The Office, starring Steve Carrell and John Krasinski, general audiences in the US might be less familiar with its source material from the UK.


DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD
(2.5/4 stars)

Written by: Ricky Gervais
Directed by:
Ricky Gervais
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown and Tom Bennett
Running time: 96 min.


Having said that, the original British version—also titled The Office—did bag its co-creator and star Ricky Gervais a couple of Golden Globes back in 2004 (a ceremony he would go on to hilariously host on a number of occasions).

Written and directed by Gervais with Stephen Merchant (who is not involved in any way in this film, it should be noted), the mockumentary style show rocked the world of the UK sitcom. It came and went much like that other U.K. comedy behemoth from John Cleese, Fawlty Towers, with just over a dozen episodes or so.

Its imprint, however, has been huge.

Mr Gervais has been careful not to exploit or milk his catastrophically cringeworthy creation, middle-aged office manager David Brent. But now, some 13 years after The Office came to an end, Ricky has brought Brent back. And this time, it’s nothing to do with personnel.

Brent is now working in another office, Lavichem, a Slough-based cleaning products (including Tampons) distributor and in the front line as a rep. And a bloody good one at that.

But he’s not the boss and, as you would expect, not respected. Brent raises his own money though earnings, credit cards and even numerous pension funds to pay for his band to rehearse and tour – and also paying for their meals, drinks and accommodation (sometimes, just miles from their own homes). His dream of getting signed by a record company isn’t quite realized as he surrounds himself with people who seem to despise him.

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais (Illustration: Philip Burke/New York Observer)

The Office fans will recognize some of the gags, namely Brent’s love of the ‘blacks’ and ‘mixed race.’ His diversity quotient has been upped for the movie with discussion, and a song, of a people very close to his heart – the ‘Native American.’ His factual, wiki-based lyrics, will delight and excruciate in equal measure with couplets such as:

‘Soar like an eagle, sit like a pelican’

And:

‘They only scalped when they got real mad’

Couple this with liberal use of the greeting “How” and some “authentic” dancing and chanting and you’ve got David Brent in a nutshell. A well-meaning idiot.

Constantly wanting to push boundaries—be it taste or how long you can actually watch a whole scene featuring the goateed friend/boss/entertainer—that’s pretty tame compared to what follows. Ricky drops the “N” bomb.

David Brent is possibly the only person in the world who can get away with this sort of language and it’s up to you to debate the word’s use. Bottom line? Gervais makes it funny because it’s all about character and not the word itself. (We should also add that the character is very drunk at this point.)

There are also shocks/laughs to be unearthed in the office environment with a eye-popping Brent monologue on the female ejaculation. Or squirting.

The songs too provide much mirth. In fact, the majority of the film’s best moments come from David’s lyrics. The aforementioned “Native American” is a joy as is the titular “Life On The Road” and “Slough” (though many people out of England will not be aware of just why the lyric, “I’m killing it in Widnes,” is just so damn funny). “Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disabled” is the cream of the crop in terms of Brentisms. Playing to a disbelieving crowd in a fraction-filled venue, including a young man in a wheelchair, David sings:

“Whether mental in the head, or mental in the legs, doesn’t mean their sorrow doesn’t show.”

And:

“Please be kind to the ones with feeble minds, help the awkward through a door.”

To be honest, it could be a Morrissey song.

Life on the Road doesn’t feel fresh or new. It entertains and ambles on, but there’s nothing that makes the film feel special (something the final Christmas Special did in abundance).

And full marks to Brent’s assertion of Coldplay taking the mundane and making it magical, just to play out with ‘Electricity’—a song that the stadium-dwellers could easily have written. So much so, singer Chris Martin chips in with vocals, happy to send himself up.

These are moments of genuine comedy gold. However, there’s not enough of this ingenuity, originality and spark in the rest of the movie. In fact, there’s not as much ingenuity, originality and spark as there was in a single thirty-minute episode of The Office.

Life on the Road doesn’t feel fresh or new. It entertains and ambles on, but there’s nothing that makes the film feel special (something the final Christmas Special did in abundance). It’s a shame given Gervais obvious talent and connection with one of comedy’s greatest characters that this outing couldn’t have been more ambitious.

The cast are a curious bunch with Ben Bailey Smith (also known as Doc Brown, rapper turned comedian/actor) as Brent’s “urban” bandmate Dom Johnson—who only gets to rap on a couple of tracks; there to prove Brent is “diverse.” A man of his talents should have been utilized more. Similarly, Brent’s friend at Lavichem Nigel, played by the brilliant Tom Bennett (classic comedy face), is dreadfully underused; a fantastic opportunity to give the Brentmeister General a new wingman was forfeited (maybe in the sequel?).

This is stacked against the number of characters in the film—such as Brent’s band mates and colleagues—who just aren’t a pleasant bunch. In fact, needlessly nasty for most of the film. Tom Basden, familiar to UK comedy fans in the BBC’s W1A and The Wrong Mans with James Corden, plays the band’s sound man and is relentlessly sour towards the man trying to bring cheer to the world (and paying him). This tone is markedly different from the TV show and you’ll really feel for Brent at many times, rendering somewhat more pathetic and unloved than usual (a testament to how real Gervais has made this incredible creation). And, without spoiling the denouement, there is a rather surprising/unbelievable volte-face in the plot that really doesn’t make sense.

If you’re not a fan of The Office, or Ricky Gervais, then this movie won’t change your mind. If you are a fan, fear not. David Brent: Life on the Road won’t sully your memory of a perfect show. But, it won’t enhance your fandom either. It’ll do the job of entertaining and delivering enough laughs for ninety minutes or so. The soundtrack, however, is an absolute must.

David Brent: Life on the Road will be available on Netflix in 2017.

In ‘David Brent: Life on the Road,’ Gervais’ Beloved Creation Returns But Disappoints