“… everything I could have wanted from a return of David Brent.”
I’ve been a fan of the character of David Brent ever since I first saw The Office. Not only do I like the character, but I was also a fan of his music that was partially shown in the show, but then expanded on in a series of YouTube videos. Needless to say I was excited at the prospect of a David Brent film; that is until I saw Ricky Gervais’ last foray into movies with Special Correspondents, which was less than entertaining. So I lowered my expectations substantially and reluctantly decided to watch David Brent: Life on the Road. The movie follows David Brent, former manger at Wernham Hogg who is now working as a salesman at Lavichem (a cleaning supply company). David aspires to be more than just a worker bee however, and he decides to take his band, Forgone Conclusion, on tour. What follows is a mockumentary that follows David Brent and his band mates as they get a taste for what the touring life is like.
What surprised me most about David Brent: Life on the Road was the fact that the film mimicked the style of The Office, which was the original appearance of Brent. For some reason I had it in my head that this would be a “real movie”, and I had worries about how the character of David Brent would fit. Luckily David Brent: Life on the Road is essentially a really long episode of the show that we already know and love. I’m happy that the format was kept the same because the character of David Brent is so unique that I don’t think he would fit well into a traditional narrative. A lot of the comedy from Brent comes in the form of watching people be awkward around him, and that comedy really only gets the punchline when we get scenes of the same characters talking about how much they despise him. The point that I’m trying to get across is, much like The Office David Brent: Life on the Road felt real. I was able to forget that I was watching a fictional movie, and was able to believe that these characters existed because, let’s face it, everyone knows at least one person like David Brent. this feeling of believability was not only accomplished with the format of the film, but also through the wonderful acting. Nobody in David Brent: Life on the Road is special per-se (well, besides Brent himself), but it takes skill to play a character who is so wonderfully plain that they just blend into the background. With fear of sounding like a broken record I will say again, this is done almost as well as The Office was. We get a look at people who are just living their lives, working at a boring office, and not everyone is trying to be a punchline (which is really respectable). And of course you have Gervais who did an amazing job as David Brent. Again I thought Gervais had lost his touch, but as soon as the film started it was like we were picking up with David Brent right where we had left off. The way that Gervais is able to make any situation twice as awkward is absolutely astounding, and it really makes the character of David Brent what he is.
When the film first started I was a little scared. What we get at the start of David Brent: Life on the Road is a very literal musical sequence for David Brent’s song “Life on the Road”. This wasn’t funny in the slightest, and as a matter of fact it was rather annoying, but luckily the film ditches that idea after the montage is finished. The most important thing that this film nailed was the feel that the character of David Brent exudes. David Brent: Life on the Road might just be the most painful movie that I’ve had to sit through, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The way that Gervais is able to manipulate your emotions to such a degree that you are begging to be released is absolutely masterful. Watching David Brent interact with literally anyone is like being burned alive; you’re in so much pain and you are constantly praying for it to be over. Luckily this feeling didn’t overstay its welcome (unless it was called for). It’s easy for a filmmaker to discover what works and then repeatedly poke at that nerve so to speak, but Gervais didn’t do that. These moments wherein you were very uncomfortable came at the perfect times. You always seemed to be given a moment to catch your breath, and then another one would come along. This not only kept the ‘gimmick’ fresh, but it also kept you on your toes in a weird way. Something else that was really well done in David Brent: Life on the Road was the films ability to make you feel for David Brent. If you are familiar with the character of Brent then you will know that he is a rather tragic one, but that gets ramped up substantially in this film. We get to see Brent open up about a few things in his life which make the character so tragic and relatable. And much like the “cringe humour”, these moments do not overstay their welcome. We get enough of a glimpse to realize what a complex character David Brent is, and then it’s on to the next thing. One issue that I did have with the film was the ending “resolution”. We spend ninety minutes with this band who are constantly saying “We hate David Brent”, but then in the last five minutes each of them say “Yeah, he’s not so bad”. The problem is that literally nothing happened in between those two moments. There was no mending of the fences, there was no grand gesture that David Brent did to win over the band, they just all decided that they like him all of a sudden. Not only was this terribly rushed, but it was also unneeded. Who gives a shit if the band likes David Brent? It adds nothing to the story other than a few scenes of band members going “He’s not so bad”. There were other characters who were able to connect with Brent and learn about the real him, and that was great, but having the band decide that he’s alright now was an absolutely terrible choice.
Ultimately David Brent: Life on the Road is everything I could have wanted from a return of David Brent. It does a good job of capturing the same feel as the original show, gives the character of David Brent more depth, and the music is pretty great as well.
I give David Brent: Life on the Road a B