Thursday, 25 August 2016

DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD review

Always dreaming of becoming a famous musician, David Brent has decided to use his life savings to take his makeshift band on tour. Stopping off at working men's clubs and student union "shite nights", he's hoping the chance of bagging a record contract is a "foregone conclusion".

It's been more than a decade since the British iteration of The Office left our television screens, and in that time its co-creator and lead actor Ricky Gervais has brought us other shows that tap into his 'comedy of embarrassment' style, such as Extras and Derek. Both proved to be popular shows, but neither managed to have anywhere near the same impact of The Office and Gervais's character David Brent. He's an indelible character who is clearly an exaggerated composite of some of Gervais's most unforgettable character traits, but is he one who warrants his own feature length spinoff?

Picking up the action a decade down the line, Brent's fleeting fame has now all but disappeared and he is back working as a salesman in an office whilst pursuing his musical aspirations in his spare time. He's willing to spend thousands of pounds to embark on this tour, hopefully become a rock star and regain that sense of camaraderie that's been missing from his life; something the film could desperately do with. There's a number of interesting additions to the cast including Roisin Conaughty and Diane Morgan (perhaps better known as Philomena Cunk), but their roles are far too small and a wasted opportunity. Thankfully Ben Bailey Smith (aka Doc Brown) has returned to Brent's world after appearing in a Comic Relief sketch a few years ago, and is able to provide a welcome break from Brent's bravado.

What's missing from Life On The Road is anyone else to take any heat off Brent. There's no Gareth to have his stapler put in jelly, so Brent has to relentlessly endure people's scorn and refusal to interact with him (reducing him to paying for the band's time to have a "social" drink with him). The constant battering of his character is hard to watch, as for all his faults Brent is still a likeable guy. Gervais is still a master at creating audience empathy when these incidences occur, but to see Brent treated this way doesn't always strike the heart plus comedy equation that it hopes to.

It's a disappointment that Gervais employs some unnecessarily broad comic situations with jarring and ill-fitting flourishes to tell Brent's story. A dodgy tattoo? The Hangover films did that. Driving down the motorway singing songs? Alan Partridge did that. Flashbacks to when the character was depressed and overweight? Yep, Partridge did that too. It's hard not to compare Brent's big screen outing to other recent sitcom expansions, and whilst the absurd siege scenario of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa would not have fit with Brent's style, in comparison Life On The Road seems formulaic and disappointingly televisual.

Life On The Road does miss the old crew, and Gervais's direction misses the presence of Merchant's level head; but if there's one thing that Gervais has managed to master over the years it's the triumphant upswing at the end, and in that respect Life on the Road doesn't disappoint. However, when viewed as a whole journey with this character, it's a bit like sitting quietly in the passenger seat and watching whilst someone continually punches the back of Brent's headrest for 90 minutes. Devout fans of The Office will find moments to cherish, but they're also the ones who'll feel the most let down too.

Verdict
2/5


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