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David Brent: Life On The Road - DVD Review

David Brent: Life on the Road

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RICKY Gervais struck comedy gold when he created office manager David Brent in BBC comedy series The Office, thereby paving the way for his own career success in the process.

But while Brent remains a favourite, Gervais himself has often struggled to recapture that same form and a return to Brent has seemed something of an inevitability given his fluctuating fortunes. However, in doing so, he also ran the risk of tarnishing the memory of that former comedic great.

Fortunately, David Brent: Life on the Road is a mostly winning return. Yes, it remains excruciating in places and Brent continues to be his own worst enemy – someone who frustrates as much as he delights by virtue of his own inability to recognise his shortcomings.

But Life On The Road – which was written as well as directed by Gervais – hits more than it misses and even manages a couple of genuinely poignant moments in amongst the cringe-inducing comedy.

Set a few years after the events of The Office, the film picks up as Brent is now working as a travelling salesman who hasn’t given up on his dream of becoming a successful singer. Indeed, his first tour is just around the corner.

But in typical Brent fashion, he is more of a legend in his own mind. And while he has a talented band behind him, song-writing is not a strength. Brent’s same social awkwardness is mirrored in his music, which delivers songs about anything from the disabled to the Native American Indian in typically insensitive fashion.

As a result, the tour proves a disaster, with Brent struggling to make bookings, fill venues or even bond with his crew (including promising rapper Dom Johnson, played by Doc Brown), yet all the while burning through his savings in a desperate bid to find some form of happiness and validation.

The best thing that can be said about Life on The Road is that it does remain true to the spirit of the original series, even though Gervais has had to deliver the script without the help of former collaborator Stephen Merchant.

Hence, for all of Brent’s capacity for self-destruction and the apparently mean-spirited nature of some of the laughs, there is still heart and humanity to be mined from the movie, if not a completely Hollywood-style ending.

Indeed, it’s a strange reality that while, in real life, you would probably run a mile from Brent’s company, as a viewer you strangely find yourself rooting for him. He’s an idiot but an underdog and it’s that underdog spirit that Gervais manages to protect, even in stretched out movie form.

It helps, too, that some of the gags are genuinely laugh out loud funny, even if they are more reliant on words and expressions rather than outrageous set pieces. Hence, a visit to a tattooist delivers one comedy high, as does a photo session and a visit to a radio station to promote a forthcoming show.

Gervais also imbues Brent with a wide range of brilliantly pained expressions that perfectly sum up what the audience is thinking – even if his nervous laugh is over-played and quite quickly annoying.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the majority of the rest of the cast, who are mostly under-served by their material. Jo Hartley, in particular, is given too little to do as Brent’s potential love interest, despite being highly effective in her few short scenes, as are Brent’s fellow band members (who extend to Andy Burrows, who also collaborated on the songs).

Doc Brown is also a little too one note as rapper Dom Johnson, but does get one crowd-pleasing moment to shine, while Tom Bennett (so good in Love & Friendship) is reduced to playing simply the buffoon here.

And while we’re pondering the negatives, some of the jokes are a little too close to the bone [and more offensive than funny], while some of the songs are just too painful. And there may be one too many of them!

But then Gervais has never been one to shy away from tip-toeing that line between good taste and bad, or making you feel uncomfortable while viewing [or laughing]. Life on The Road offers more of the same, albeit in the company of a former sitting room favourite.

For all of its faults, the film remains an enjoyable experience with the decision to revisit the character far from the folly it could have been.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 38mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: December 12, 2016