David Brent: Life on the Road – Review

The Office is a perfect piece of television. Fact. An undeniable game changer, the Slough-set series managed to change the comedy genre forever in less than eight-hours worth of television. Its sharp writing was altogether excruciatingly painful to watch and side-splittingly hilarious, all the more so due to its characters which were a lot more familiar than we’d probably like to admit – I mean everybody knows either a Gareth, Tim, Dawn or Brent. Right?

The series is in fact so perfect, that its crowd-pleasing ending (“Chris, why don’t you fuck off?”) was always going to be a tough act to follow. It came as no surprise then when the creators of the series, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, frequently claimed in the following years that the series would be best left alone.Yet here we are, thirteen-years later, and David Brent has dusted off his Sergio Georgini jacket for another catch up with the cameras. And this time, it’s for the big screen.

A lot has changed since the last time we saw Brent, both in front of and behind the camera. Gervais, flying solo this time around, makes the decision to focus solely on his iconic creation; a choice which allows us to keep imagining what might have happened characters such as Tim and Dawn after the cameras stopped rolling, and which leaves the flawless ending to the series intact.

As much as I would have loved to have seen some familiar faces, the fact that Brent is the only real connection to the series allows Gervais creative freedom in the story that he tells. This isn’t ‘The Office Movie’, where Brent takes his friends abroad for a holiday –  as is often the case with big screen outings for television shows – but rather a continued study into the David Brent character. If anything, that’s a big reason as to why the film works as well as it does.

The story itself finds Brent taking an extended holiday from his job as a sales rep, so that he can go on tour with his rock band, Foregone Conclusion. Along with his band, sound engineer and “rapper sidekick” Dom Johnson, he has a few weeks to play a few gigs and hopefully get signed by a record company. Failure isn’t an option, and Brent will do almost anything it takes – even bankrupt himself – to get where he wants to be.

For all of the changes, David Brent: Life on the Road has that same sense of tragicomedy that made the series such a success. When you’re not laughing at Brent’s catalogue of rock songs, that feature lyrics which range from the mundane (Life on the Road) to the “hyper-political” (Native American), you’ll be watching the film through your fingers as the rep/rock star tries desperately to interact with his band mates, audience and work colleagues.

But for however hilarious it is – and it is truly, consistently laugh-out-loud funny – the film’s biggest success is in the way in which Ricky Gervais layers his character with poignancy and pathos. As has become the norm with the writer’s work (see Derek) ‘Life on the Road’ is as touching as it is witty, to the point where I found myself getting teary-eyed on a number of occasions (I know, I was surprised too).

There’s always been a sadness to David Brent, but as Pauline – one of the few people in Brent’s new office who seems to like him –  says at one point during the film, “things have gotten worse since the last time, because people have gotten worse”. She’s right, things have gotten worse for Brent, and in one of Gervais’ finest moments of writing, the character’s mental health is touched upon and you can’t help but instantly reflect on the way you’ve seen Brent up until that point.

There are, however, beacons of light throughout Brent’s life that take the form of a small group of individuals – Pauline, Nigel, Kaz and even Dom Johnson – who understand and see through the smiles and tics that David usually hides behind. And its these characters  – especially Pauline – who afford the film some of its most uplifiting scenes.

It is this combination of the tragic and the uplifiting, the sad and the happy, which makes David Brent: Life on the Road such a comedic triumph. With charming performances, suprisingly good songs and the on-point writing we’ve come to expect from Gervais, it is a fantastic continuation of The Office. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe and leave the cinema with a huge smile on your face, not least because the film doesn’t tarnish the show’s legacy in the slightest.

Image credit to http://www.impawards.com

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