'David Brent: Life On The Road' - Film Review
The cinematic return of the middle-management moron is the best thing Gervais has done in years
There’s reason to feel cautious about Ricky Gervais resurrecting David Brent. The mortifying boss from The Office, who made the vaguely familiar funnyman an overnight comedy hero in 2001, is his one perfect creation. Coming off the back of the worst project of his career, the largely ignored Netflix film Special Correspondents, is Gervais in a place to do anything other than tarnish his legacy? Does he have the skills he had then?
Emphatically, yes. David Brent: Life On The Road is the best thing Gervais has made in years; a reminder that when he’s on form, he can balance comedy and pathos like few others. David Brent is no longer the boss of Wernham Hogg, Slough’s foremost paper supplier. He now travels the country selling tampons for vending machines. While he lives in the body of a lowly sales rep, inside him screams the soul of a rockstar. Nobody else in the world has heard its off-key cries, but Brent plans to change that by taking 11 days of holiday and touring the country, or at least the larger Reading area, with his band Foregone Conclusion. Fame surely awaits.
As a set-up, it’s easy, literally putting Brent on a stage to be laughed at. It barely requires Gervais to write any jokes for it; just have the chubby, hairy-backed fortysomething trying to be a popstar in front of a small – very, very small – crowd of disinterested punters. Yet Gervais works that set-up hard, both on and off stage. He gives Brent hilarious songs that earnestly document the lives of Native Americans or the marginalised disabled; essentially anything Brent has himself never experienced. They’re funny on the surface, but they show a man who doesn’t believe there’s anything truly interesting within him so tries horribly, heartbreakingly, to be someone else. His whole life is a pretence. Gervais’s skill isn’t so much in giving a comedy character real emotion, but in making a tragic character so, so funny.
It only grazes the genius of The Office of old and its emotional resolution screeches in with too little build-up, but it’s one of the funniest films of the year and one of the most oddly moving too.
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown
Director: Ricky Gervais
Release date: 19 Aug, 2016