FILM REVIEW: David Brent – Life on the road

It’s been well over ten years now since Ricky Gervais called a halt to his massively successful mockumentary TV series, The Office, with a two-part Christmas special which  brought an emotional end to one of the finest home-grown sitcoms of our time.

Being such a revered slice of British popular culture we have to pose the question: Is it wise to re-visit something that was to all intents and purposes ‘perfect’ as it was. Isn’t it always best to leave well alone?

David Brent: Life on the road (DB:LOTR) follows Slough’s finest once again, over ten years later, in another mockumentary that chronicles an exciting time in David Brent’s life; the re-birth of his band ‘Foregone Conclusion’ – or more accurately ‘Foregone Conclusion, Mark II’ – and what David hopes will be a lucrative (both financially and career-wise), UK tour (of the Berkshire area).

He’s assembled a decent band of session musicians, and together with a reluctant ‘acquaintance’, and an overpaid sound engineer, Brent hopes that collectively they can produce some magic and launch themselves (but launch David Brent, more specifically), into the big time.

Yes, Brent is clearly still a man of considerable delusions, and the allure of the Rock ‘n’ Roll dream still burns brightly in the ageing sales rep’s eyes, and more importantly, heart.

DB:LOTR is particularly notable for a couple of things:

Those ‘fortunate’ enough to be thrown together with Brent – be it his office colleagues at Lavichem where he is now a sales rep of feminine hygiene products and the like, or his on-tour band and crew – all seem to fit strangely familiar roles within Brent’s life and adopt similar attitudes towards him, much in the same way that we remember the original cast members of The Office adopting, back in the day.

Whilst this perhaps smacks a little bit of Gervais playing it safe with the formula here, we also have to remind ourselves that unless Brent has undergone some massive personality change over the interim years, he will almost certainly still be largely the same socially inadequate fool that he ever was, and in turn will still gravitate towards similar surrounds and find himself embroiled in similar scrapes and predicaments. This in turn will almost inevitably draw the same largely exasperated reactions and looks of disbelief from all and sundry.

Secondly, and perhaps more tellingly: Brent is no longer the boss. He’s just one of the rep’s at Lavichem, and considering the disdain with which he is treated on tour, even though he’s paying the wages and fronting his own band, neither does he appear to wear the trousers in his very own Rock ‘n’ Roll daydream.

Consequently, the vitriol and at times pretty hateful bile that is spewed in his direction by both colleagues and acquaintances alike – the kind of thing that once upon a time would have been noticeably toned down due to Brent’s elevated management status – is now harsh, spiteful and at times very personal. In fact, there were times during DB:LOTR when what would have previously been just toe-curling, squirm-inducing moments of comedy, were suddenly not so funny anymore, and rather painful to watch. Brent is seemingly now perceived not so much as ‘a bit of a harmless dick,’ but an altogether more poisonous presence to most of those with whom he interacts. David Brent is now a man well and truly forced out of life’s social circle, encouraged to make himself scarce, and very much alone in his own personal Siberia.

Perhaps it’s the passing of time and I’ve just gone soft in my old age, but, as much of a plonker as Brent undoubtedly is meant to be, there were moments in DB:LOTR that were actually rather upsetting and interestingly, such moments, rather than casting Brent in a bad light, were far more indicative of the thoughtlessness and negativity of others; traits that people so often exhibit in the face of a challenging personality or a difficult set of circumstances.

Unable to show even a little patience or compassion and understanding – Brent’s entourage are all far too self-absorbed within their own selfish ambitions and needs to consider the impact of their thoughtlessness upon others.

Of course, bearing in mind Brent’s own, at times self-absorbed ‘whacky funster’ of a personality, I am fully aware of the irony of this comment.

But let’s face it, I’m probably reading far too much into it all!

Whatever Gervais’ intentions with DB:LOTR were, it’s clear that the increasingly sentimental angle to his work – think Derek in particular, a sitcom that frequently swung between the down-right hilarious and the almost unbearably mawkish – is an area that he continues to believe in and pursue, and in all honesty, it’s probably this aspect that will most likely give DB:LOTR greater longevity than if it had been purely a vehicle for a sequence of madcap Gervais gags and one-liners.

Of course, the vast majority of people haven’t gone to DB:LOTR for psychological insights though, and the pertinent question remains: Does it make us laugh?

Thankfully, the answer is: by and large…yes.

DB:LOTR is in fact packed full of both nuanced and balls out slapstick comedy. Some of it is howlingly funny – Brent’s band unknowingly headlining a student ‘Shite Night’ at a local university, a particular highlight  – and some of the humour can be seen coming from a mile off – Brent’s botched attempts to become a little cooler by having a tattoo done. Nevertheless, DB:LOTR is certainly sufficiently funny throughout to appeal to most, even if it can all be a little predictable at times.

It’s hard to say where we go from here now with the whole David Brent concept. Perhaps surprisingly, I’d say there is still a little more mileage to be had out of Gervais’ favourite, deeply-flawed anti-hero, be that on the big screen or perhaps better still, back on the altogether more forgiving comedy medium of television. Either way, I certainly hope so.

Ultimately, DB:LOTR delivers. It offers few surprises,but in many ways, that doesn’t really matter.

It’s a film that follows a well-trodden path to bring us a touching story of misguided dreams and ambitions, but rather surprisingly it’s probably not the laughs that make it, but instead it’s Gervais’ penchant for over-sentimentality  – the sort of thing we’d probably be quick to decry when churned forth from the Hollywood machine.

 

 

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