Tuesday 30 August 2016

Film Review: David Brent - Life on the Road

Brent is back! Ricky Gervais revives his most famous comedy character for one final victory lap in David Brent: Life on the Road.

You’d be forgiven for already having written off David Brent: Life on the Road; after all, very few cherished TV shows have successfully made the transition to the big screen in the past – just ask The Inbetweeners or Dad’s Army. However, there will always be exceptions to the rule, a fact that Gervais makes evidently clear by writing, directing and starring in this bittersweet send-off to his finest comedy creation, David Brent.

Brent might’ve aged slightly in the 15 years since leaving Wernham Hogg, but he’s still the smirking, buffoonish boss in the ill-fitting suit that we all love to hate. Now working as a cleaning products sales rep, Brent hasn’t given up on his dreams of making it big with his band, Foregone Conclusion, and so he uses up the rest of his paid vay-cay to begin an extensive three-week tour…of the area in and around Slough.

It isn’t long before poor ticket sales, inter-band tensions and a lack of cash begin to threaten Brent’s aspirations of landing that magical record deal. Can the disappointing tour continue indefinitely, or has the perpetually grinning goon begun to realise that his big break might never transpire?

Gervais seamlessly slips back into the role of David Brent like one would a comfy pair of old jeans; practically second nature at this point, it’s harder than ever to discern where Gervais ends and Brent begins. The gormless grin and that grating giggle are still there, only this time with an added layer of despondency and ageing despair. 

Even though he’s been absent from our screens for over a decade, Brent (and Gervais’ ability to write the character) hasn’t dwindled or been diluted in the slightest. Just as insufferably awkward and obnoxious as ever, the delicate blend of absurdity, discomfort and pathos shines through in Life on the Road just as brightly as it did when The Office concluded back in 2003. 

The sharp writing extends to the soundtrack too; Gervais has penned an entire album of off-colour melodies with wonderfully terrible titles like ‘Native American’, ‘Lady Gypsy’ and ‘Equality Street’. Office aficionados will love the fleeting reprise of ‘Freelove Freeway’ also.

British rapper/actor Ben Bailey Smith (credited by his stage name, Doc Brown) plays Brent’s straight-man foil, Dom. An aspiring freestyler who Brent recruits for his band, Dom’s exasperated glances to the camera apes Martin Freeman’s similar character from The Office. Also joining the cast is Tom Bennett as Nigel, a friend and equally kooky co-worker, and Abbie Murphy as Serena, a doe-eyed love interest that Brent is painfully unaware of.

The film does start to tread water in the third act; Brent always worked best when dished out in smaller doses, and a feature length runtime doesn’t flatter. At 96 minutes, Life on the Road doesn’t overstay its welcome by a huge margin, mercifully serving up a touching finale (complete with snow machine) before waving goodbye to the character in a suitably downbeat manner.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

Life on the Road is excruciating, hilarious, heartbreaking and touching all at the same time. Fans of The Office will find a lot to enjoy here, whilst the film does offer something for anyone who isn’t familiar with the mockumentary series.

David Brent: Life on the Road is in cinemas across Australia now

This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out. 

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