David Brent – Life On The Road review: Laugh-out-loud funny and unexpectedly touching
Film review: David Brent - Life On The Road

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on Ricky Gervais' resurrection of his most infamous comic character

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Former reality TV star David Brent quits his sales rep day job and attempts to fulfill his long-held dream of becoming a rock star, in Ricky Gervais’ resurrection of his most infamous comic creation

Director: Ricky Gervais
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden
Country: UK
Release date: August 19, 2016
Cert: 15
Running time: 96 mins

It’s safe to say that whatever else he does with his career, Ricky Gervais will never escape the shadow of David Brent, the excruciatingly embarrassing middle manager and self-styled “entertainer” he created for hit BBC comedy The Office.

After a series of relatively underwhelming projects, Gervais appears to have accepted that his destiny lies with the former office manager of Wernham Hogg, and has brought Brent back, a full decade after the character was last seen on our screens.

The result is a flawed but frequently funny comedy that stays commendably true to the character’s small screen origins.

Played to perfection

With Gervais taking on writing and directing duties as well as starring, the film is presented as a documentary that catches up with Brent ten years after the reality TV show that made him a household name.

Having recovered from a nervous breakdown, Brent is now a cleaning products sales rep, but the presence of the documentary crew inspires him to chase his long-held dream of becoming a rock star, so he quits his job and self-funds a series of gigs around the M25, accompanied by a group of well-paid session musicians and aspiring rapper Dom (Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown).

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Brent remains a masterful comic creation and Gervais plays him to perfection, relishing each and every one of his character-defining tics, from his Oliver Hardy-esque looks to camera when something goes wrong to his anxious lip-biting and a sort of strangulated half-laugh, half-moan.

Similarly, Doc Brown is extremely engaging as Dom (who likes Brent, even if he’s perpetually embarrassed by him), and there’s strong support from Tom Basden as Brent’s exasperated roadie.

Guilty of repetition

Gervais’ direction maintains the familiar rhythm and pace of The Office, while exploiting the comedy of embarrassment for maximum effect, so that it often feels like you’re experiencing a feature-length cringe.

In addition, the writing remains true to the character and even grants him a measure of sympathy, though you can occasionally feel Gervais’ own desperation for the audience to love Brent and he almost overdoes it in places (having too many supporting characters declare how much they like him, for example).

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It seems churlish to complain about some of the gags falling flat, because more often than not, the joke not working is itself the joke.

But either way, the film is certainly guilty of repetition, with every big laugh being some variation on Brent being horrifically offensive without realising it.

To that end, the levels of Brent’s insensitivity seem to vary according to the demands of the gag – it’s hard to believe that he thinks he can get away with doing a racist Chinaman routine in a crowded office, for example.

On top of that, the film is a little self-indulgent in places (every one of the comedy songs out-stays its welcome), and there are a couple of obvious slip-ups with regard to the documentary crew conceit. But on the whole, the film hits more often than it misses and the end result is surprisingly moving.

Worth seeing?

By turns excruciating, laugh-out-loud funny and unexpectedly touching, this is a largely successful spin-off that won’t disappoint fans of The Office.


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