Your enjoyment of David Brent: Life on the Road depends on how strongly you feel about the character. I think casual fans will love it – and rightly so. Brent is back to his awkward and hilarious best, delivering plenty of cringe-worthy moments that will certainly delight. It’s consistently funny, the songs are amazing and writer/director Ricky Gervais delivers one of the most entertaining films of the year.
I thought The Office was incredible and easily one of the best endings to a TV show I’ve ever seen. So to bring Brent back I feel that you need to have a really strong story, and I don’t think this was it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to see Gervais back and I laughed throughout. But for me, it didn’t outdo the finale of The Office, so there’s a part of me that thinks that the legacy of Brent should have been left alone.
It’s a little bit like the Only Fools and Horses conundrum – they should have left that when Del and Rodney became millionaires. It was awesome to see more from the characters (and you wanted to see more) but ultimately you knew that it should not have gone on. Those 3 post-millennial Christmas specials after they lost everything didn’t add anything of note to the series (Del’s annoying son Damien was a particular low-point). So the question is…‘should you end on a high?’ I feel that The Office ending was a massive high.
David Brent’s always funny and whenever Gervais chooses to bring him out again I’ll watch anything he’s in. Since The Office ended in 2003 Brent has appeared in a brief one-off Comic Relief special and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the US Office TV series. I genuinely hope that we get a sequel to Life on the Road, but if I was asked to take this film as Brent’s final foray or choose to leave that character (so eloquently signed-off) at the end of The Office TV series), I’d pick the series every time. But his return to the screen does bring up some interesting questions – so much so that Gervais felt that this was the right time to revisit him.
David Brent is no longer the boss – he’s a travelling salesman with Lavichem, selling cleaning and ladies’ personal hygiene products out on the road. He decides to have another crack at fame and uses his life savings and some cashed-in pensions to fund a tour with a professional band and his reluctant protégée Dom (a hilarious Doc Brown). These session musicians form ‘Forgone Conclusion’ and hit the road to play a series of increasingly-embarrassing gigs, as Brent bids to be signed by a record label to finally get his shot at the limelight.
Scratching past the surface gags, the film plays with much more nuanced depth than on initial viewing, so a second watch is certainly recommended. Gervais has a lot to say about the concept of modern celebrity, how the clamouring of fame is eating away at people and how the world is, quite frankly, a less funny place to be in right now. Resurrecting Brent in this scenario creates an interesting situation for a beloved character to endure. It’s actually quite brave in many respects – daring to extend that legacy out that little bit more in unfamiliar surroundings.
It’s also a very melancholy film, and these moments occasionally feel a bit full-on. There are elements that get really negative – for instance how Brent is treated by his band, and for me it just didn’t sit well. Time isn’t given to adequately build up the finale either so the resolution (of sorts) that happens towards the end feels far too rushed and uneven. I think having Stephen Merchant being involved in the film would have helped out with a few of my concerns, and his absence on this project is certainly felt. Hope is a central theme of the film – maybe we can hope Merchant returns if a sequel is made.
The songs in Life on the Road are truly awesome though. Both funny and musically adept, they provide a strong backbone to the film and in all honestly, really should have been featured a lot more. We only get glimpses of the songs performed on-stage. Anyone who’s seen the music videos for Lady Gypsy, Life on the Road or his glorious ode to Slough knows how good these are. They warranted much more screen time.
I think Life on the Road would work a lot better if there was a sequel down the line. Not straight away, perhaps in 5-7 years time to see how the events of this film have shaped the fictional life of a character that we all love. David Brent has somewhat changed in Life on the Road, but in many respects I suppose he had to. I personally wouldn’t want this movie to be the final sign-off for him, but now that Gervais has brought him back there are plenty of stories still left to tell – hopefully this won’t be the last time we see him.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith aka Doc Brown, Tom Bennett, Jo Hartley, Mandeep Dhillon, Andy Burrows, Tom Basden, Steve Clarke, Michael Clarke, Stuart Wilkinson Director: Ricky Gervais Writer: Ricky Gervais Released By: eOne Certificate: 15 Duration: 96 mins Release Date: 12th December 2016