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New Release Review - DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD

The protagonist of TV's The Office gets his own movie.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Ricky Gervais

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Doc Brown, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon



They say the best comedy comes from the underdog, and if The Office felt like the work of a struggling comic pouring his heart out, David Brent: Life on the Road suggests Gervais' fame has resulted in his losing touch with the common man.



Back in 2001, comedian Ricky Gervais became something of an overnight sensation thanks to the global popularity of his hit BBC series The Office. With its 'mockumentary' format, the show ushered in a new era of single camera sitcoms, resulting in the fourth wall being smashed by comic protagonists on both sides of the Atlantic for the next decade.

The most obvious influence for Gervais' show was Rob Reiner's 1984 mock-rockumentary This is Spinal Tap, both in its fly on the wall format and mining of 'cringe comedy' from characters completely lacking in self awareness. For this big screen spinoff, Gervais explicitly acknowledges Reiner's influence, sending his own protagonist, David Brent, off on a road trip as he attempts to ignite his music career.


Having been made redundant at the climax of The Office's short run, Brent now works as a sales rep for hygiene products manufacturer Lavichem, which gives him ample opportunity to crack bad tampon jokes with his suffering clients. The majority of his co-workers openly despise him, save for fellow sales rep Nigel (an under-used Tom Bennett, displaying more of the comic charm we saw in Love & Friendship), who views him as something of a role model; receptionist Kaz (Mandeep Dhillon), who feels sorry for him; and Pauline (Jo Hartley), who has, bizarrely, fallen head over heels in love with the oblivious Brent.

Taking two weeks of unpaid leave, Brent bankrupts himself by hiring a band and booking a series of gigs around the Reading/Slough catchment area, renting a tour bus and hotel rooms despite all the venues lying within a few miles of his home. Needless to say, the tour does not go well.


David Brent: Life on the Road certainly makes you cringe, but for all the wrong reasons. Where The Office had us laughing with Gervais and at Brent, here we simply feel sorry for both, laughing neither with nor at the creator or his creation. Despite the title, this movie is more about Gervais than Brent, as the former uses the latter to take on the internet based backlash that has made the comedian one of social media's most unpopular figures, one who attracts criticism from both sides of the political divide for his outspoken attacks on religion and refusal to indulge in politically correct self-censoring.

The David Brent of The Office was a monster, an ignorant sociopath devoid of self-awareness, making it very easy for us to laugh at him. Here, we're told early on that he's plagued by mental illness, and though Brent still lacks a social filter and continues to rub people up the wrong way, he's aware of how others view him. This makes it difficult to laugh at the character; now we simply feel sorry for Brent, and the movie is downright depressing for long stretches as a result.


There are times when the line between Gervais and Brent blur so much here that we begin to wonder if the former is using the popularity of the latter in an attempted riff on his friend Louis CK's acclaimed semi-autobiographical sitcom Louis, but it's nowhere near as smart as CK's work. Gervais was a failed singer himself in the 1980s, and with a soundtrack album set for release and a planned concert tour, it seems Gervais is indulging in a large scale real life version of Brent's own musical tour. While the pseudo Metal tracks of Spinal Tap where amusing and genuinely catchy, Brent's songs simply aren't lyrically funny enough, and musically they're bland and instantly forgettable.

The Office was very much a product of its time and place, pre-recession middle England, but David Brent: Life on the Road has little to say about Britain in 2016, relying instead on tired old scenarios such as white people behaving awkwardly around minorities. They say the best comedy comes from the underdog - which explains why Jews cornered the post-war US comedy market - and if The Office felt like the work of a struggling comic pouring his heart out, David Brent: Life on the Road suggests Gervais' fame has resulted in his losing touch with the common man.

David Brent: Life on the Road is in cinemas August 19th.




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