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David Brent: Life on the Road review: embarrassing
August 16, 2016
Whereas beloved British sitcoms making the transition from the small screen to the big used to be cheaply assembled excuses to over-extend the joke on a higher budget, there’s been a recent resurgence in their popularity. Whether it’s Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie or more recently Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, this sudden reappraisal somewhat overshadows widespread critical indifference, proving that scathing reviews don’t necessarily undermine the stats when it comes to the box office.
The latest casualty of this newly lucrative swell is the BBC’s The Office, whose central character’s ongoing downward spiral and cringe-worthy escapades form the basis of his own feature, David Brent: Life on the Road. Purposefully charged with continuing the “Brent saga”, following a couple of lacklustre TV skits in the interim period between this and the show, co-writer, director, and star Ricky Gervais seemingly pulls out all the comedic stops as he centres the film around his ingenious creation’s one final push to make it in the music industry.
The film picks up in roughly real-time after Brent’s appearance in the fly-on-the-wall documentary series that gave him some semblance of notoriety. Now a salesman at a lowly company peddling tampons and cleaning products, and followed once again by an omnipresent camera crew, Brent puts into motion his desire to make real his dreams and become a bona fide rock star, assembling a backing band and touring on the road across Britain (or mainly just the Berkshire region).
Coming off the back a string of amateurishness feature films (The Invention of Lying being the nadir), Gervais’s return to the territory he originally thrived in makes artistic sense, especially considering the widespread devotion for the show, yet what he’s come up with is an almost excruciatingly pandering attempt to extend the antics of a character who is now thrust into the realm of caricature.
Unlike the Christmas special, which neatly closed the story whilst giving Brent some semblance of an affectionate dénouement, Life on the Road overtly shuns subtlety in favour of cheap jokes at literally every minority going, be it fat women, homosexuals, or black people (Doc Brown, who plays Brent’s rapper compadre Dom, is the butt of many tasteless, and not to mention dated, jokes about his skin colour).
Delving more into Brent’s personal life is both a welcome continuation and a dutiful form of fan service, especially when he was previously seen solely within the confines of his Slough-based paper merchants, yet what Gervais comes up with is pure laziness, lacking the nuance he and (a missing) Stephen Merchant injected into even the most reprehensible examples of their character’s behaviour. The bizarre repetition of an uneasy post-joke exhalation – the potential side effects of a nervous breakdown he freely admits to recently having – cements Gervais’s over-reliance on caricatured tics and exaggerated mannerisms, robbing the film of any form of probing investigation into the emotional ramifications of a tragic, deeply socially inept individual.
Perhaps that’s too much to ask for a sitcom-to-screen adaptation, but when you’re opting for lowest common denominator gags over insightful characterisation, and not to mention half-decent filmmaking, the results quickly begin to look embarrassing and wholly irrelevant.
Words by Edward Frost