David Brent: Life on the Road

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Ricky Gervais

Starring

Doc Brown Jo Hartley Ricky Gervais

Anticipation.

A cherished Britcom character makes his big-screen bow.

Enjoyment.

It’s no Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa…

In Retrospect.

Please, no encore.

Ricky Gervais revives his most famous – and cringeworthy – comic creation in this lamentable spin-off.

There’s an early scene in David Brent: Life on the Road where Slough’s favourite son*, now flogging tampons for a wholesale toiletries supplier, confesses that he suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after The Office went off air 13 years ago and still regularly sees a therapist. It’s an honest, humanising moment that subtly reinforces the character’s broad appeal. Even though he’s a massive berk, David Brent has always been the kind of bloke ordinary people could relate to. A nightmare boss, yes, but also painfully real – someone you always felt sympathetic towards.

Sadly that’s no longer the case, because in giving his most famous comic creation what we assume and sincerely hope is one final taste of the limelight, writer/director and star Ricky Gervais has dialled the very worst aspects of Brent’s personality – the arrogance, the ignorance, the petulance – all the way up to 11 without down-tuning his usual misplaced confidence. So while the meta premise of a follow-up, where-are-they-now style documentary, in which a camera crew follows the middle-aged wannabe rocker around on an increasingly desperate pub gig tour with his (backing) band Forgone Conclusion, does admittedly serve up a few good laughs, the overriding feeling is one of melancholy and regret. And not in the way Gervais intended.

The problem is that, despite supposedly having been left traumatised by his brief reality TV stardom, it quickly becomes clear that Brent has learned absolutely nothing from that experience. If anything, he’s regressed as a character, perhaps as a result of slipping down the managerial food chain. He’s more calculated and disingenuous than before, constantly acting up for the cameras, the Brentisms more exaggerated and obscene. On stage he performs juvenile ballads like ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’, and even adopts a mock Rastafarian accent to rap about diversity and multiculturalism in ‘Equality Street’. Off it he tells crude, insensitive jokes to no one in particular.

Brent’s behaviour is, as expected, cringeworthy in the extreme. But it’s also self-conscious and contrived, as if he has become acutely aware of his own ability to irk and offend people, defying the film’s internal logic and thus shattering the mockumentary illusion. Maybe Gervais has lost sight of what made us love/hate David Brent in the first place: he’s deluded and petty, but he’s compelling because you sense that deep down he knows exactly how pathetic he is. Humility was never his strong suit, of course, but there’s a fundamental disconnect here between how Brent’s latest failure actually affects him and the preassigned emotional response Gervais expects us to arrive at. He doesn’t change or grow as a character, at least not in any meaningful sense, and as such a last-ditch stab at reconciliation feels inauthentic and unearned.

Another thing that’s sorely lacking is the genuine affection Gervais and his co-writer on The Office, Stephen Merchant, once had for Brent. Pretty much every gag comes at his expense, and there’s a mean-spiritedness about the script that leaves a bitter aftertaste. More than anything, though, this disappointing spin-off crystallises the importance of the original group dynamic, which brought so much in the way of nuance and pathos. It’s just not the same without Gareth, Tim, Dawn, Finchy and the others. Gervais knows it, too.

Published 10 Aug 2016

Tags: David Brent Ricky Gervais

Anticipation.

A cherished Britcom character makes his big-screen bow.

Enjoyment.

It’s no Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa…

In Retrospect.

Please, no encore.

Read More

Special Correspondents

By David Jenkins

A ridiculous comedy film that may well rank as the lamest thing Ricky Gervais has put his name to.

review

Sightseers

By Adam Woodward

The director of Kill List and Down Terrace returns with a camp comedy caper about pair of cagoule-sporting serial killers.

review

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

By Adam Lee Davies

Steve Coogan brings his sparkling character comedy to the tedious tale of a radio station siege.

review

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, LWLies has been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design