Well over a decade has passed since Ricky Gervais’ most iconic creation, David Brent, graced our screens for the first time in the BBC’s fictional documentary The Office. The then regional manager of a Slough-based paper merchants, Brent – now a semi-successful sales rep – still has aspirations of becoming a rock star. David Brent: Life on the Road, written and directed by Gervais himself, follows Brent and his band ‘Forgone Conclusion’, including reluctant rapper sidekick Dom (Doc Brown), as they embark upon a self-funded tour of Berkshire.
A musically-laced fiasco, Gervais’ Brent comeback lays in a delicate middle ground. Neither a roaring success nor carrying a feeling of being a total cash-in, Life on the Road kind of just plods along in an occasionally amusing, but never hysterical, state. At times spectacularly, and characteristically for the politically incorrect Brent, cringey – as his musical offerings range from the humorous (‘Life on the Road’ and ‘Lady Gypsy’), the strangely timed (‘Don’t Cry It’s Christmas’), to jaw droppingly un-PC (‘Please Don’t Make Fun of The Disableds’). Yet most striking – and something that was missing from the TV series – is the film’s overriding sense of melancholy. Occasionally heavy-handed, but ultimately rather sad, it (the fear of failure) was a side of the character we’d rarely seen, and offered Life On The Road a surprising, but successful, backbone.
Despite Brent’s popularity, The Office owes much of its popularity to a talented supporting cast. Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth Keenan, and, in particular, Martin Freeman’s Tim, were exceptional foils to Gervais’s over-the-top, clown-ish comedic spiel. 90 minutes of Brent can, is, and was, just a little too much; there’s only so far that the shock-factor comedy act can carry itself, and with no substantial supporting characters to carry the comedic burden, the ignorant-beyond-belief gag can lose its way.
There’s enough in Life on the Road for Brent fans to enjoy; it’s not a glorious comeback by any means, but it’s a deeper film – if not as funny – as many would have expected.