I’ll hit this one right out of the park and just go ahead and say it. I’ve not yet watched the original The Office. For some reason I just keep getting distracted. I’ve got both seasons on DVD, but have not once been keen enough to sit down and watch them. As horrifying as this may sound, I have seen the American remake, and that was great. A bit shaky at times over the course of nine fucking seasons but nonetheless a solid comedy. I can only expect the same from the original, when I get round to watching it. But for now I’ll settle for David Brent: Life on the Road.
So what better way of hyping myself to watch the original product than by watching the spin off movie? Keith Lemon: The Film (2012) had the opposite effect, with me never wanting to see that ginger prick on my screen ever again. With David Brent: Life on the Road we see a return to the titular character, David Brent. Ricky Gervais, it seems, is the only cast member to return, of course as David Brent. There are no series regulars to return, and to be honest that’s quite a good thing. As long as you have the core focus of the television show, then you should be good to go, right?
Well, it’s difficult. By all means, the movie was good. But The Office was never about just Brent. It was about Tim, Dawn and a whole host of other characters. Their absence should hindered this movie to a large degree, but it doesn’t. See, I’ve seen the clip of how The Office ends. A crescendo of two series worth of gags, ending on a bit of a low note, so long as you don’t factor in the Christmas special. How can we talk about this movie without of course talking about the comedy? It’s a very funny movie. Some stand out stuff in here that is laugh your arse off funny. A lot of these jokes come in the earlier half of the film though, with the second and third act focusing more on the plot. It was an interesting yet extremely enjoyable and deserved change for the Brent role. Seeing him blossom as a character, rather than be just a punchline was a greatly needed change.
For me, one of my hesitations with The Office is its frequent use of cringe comedy. By all means I do enjoy cringe comedy, look no further than my adoration of Peep Show(2003 – 2015) for that, but there’s some niggling feeling about The Office that puts me off. By all means though, I’m sure it’s good stuff, that’s what the movie has taught me anyway. The movie however does seem to have moved away from this cringe comedy and moved more towards genuine gags and witty dialogue. It’s a move away from original form that may alienate some fans of the TV show, but as an outsider it felt very welcoming. It’s not that the cringe comedy is completely done away with, Brent’s impressions early in the film were ample amounts of cringe.
What truly makes me guilty is that Brent is presented as a rather talented musician. Some of the songs within this film, specifically the “Life on the Road” opening track, are very good. It taps into that groove of niche 1980s, an upbeat tempo and lyrical nonsense to a certain degree. Brent’s passion for the industry is superbly presented and it is a genuine shame that it doesn’t work out for him. Me saying that doesn’t spoil the film though, his attitude and personality hasn’t gotten any less cringe inducing, but that’s the best part. Gervais has managed to create a staple character to British comedy, and has the ability to seamlessly transition back into that role at any moment. He hasn’t missed a beat, and if it weren’t for his excellent performance this film would have been all filler.
Speaking of Gervais, he directed this too. That’s no surprise to be fair, Gervais has always had an eye for direction and this is no exception. He knows how to do comedy, that’s an obvious fact right there. His work behind and in front of the camera is always stellar and none of his work highlights the balance he has between the two more than Life on the Road. A series of brief, talking head interviews clipped together with a mockumentary styling similar to that of its source material. It’s executed perfectly and works extremely well throughout. Bonus points for writing and performing the soundtrack too, because to be quite honest it is very good.
As is tradition with British made films it’s a can-can of recognisable faces. Diane Morgan (Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, Cunk on Shakespeare) makes a genuinely surprising appearance. Roisin Conaty (Man Down) even shows up for a quick scene with Brent which is even better. It’s expected, but to this level it’s not too bad. Films like A Cock and Bull Story (2005) rely far too heavily on that “wow, I know that person” factor, so it’s a nice change from the norm here. To be fair, regardless of who was cast, it wouldn’t have worked if not for the marvellous script and hard work of every actor involved. The talking head documentary style really does compliment the film.
Lines like “What do you call a man who hangs around with musicians? A drummer.” are genuinely hilarious and I absolutely loved them. A lot of the lines in this film are more based on the delivery and reactions of a character, rather than the line itself. I love stuff like that. A joke shouldn’t be just the words, it should be how a person says it and how they act while saying it. This theory is put into full effect throughout and it only bolsters the film throughout its perfectly capped runtime. Some jokes, of course, go way too far though. Well, only one of them. A double denim joke. Brent wears double denim, a crime that, regardless of context, must be punishable. It’s the sole argument for bringing back capital punishment.
What the film lacks in laugh out loud moments it makes up for with a touching and heartfelt crescendo to Britain’s finest paper-company manager. It’s the perfect end to an otherwise infinite story, and to a certain degree, through Gervais’ direction and performance, he understands that this may very well be the end of the character. It was nice to see a cast that fully supported an on form Gervais, who gives a career best performance, rivalling that of his great starring role in The Invention of Lying (2009). It’s certainly not the sharpest comedy of the 21st century, but it tries and for the most part sticks with a well known and enjoyable traditional format.
In traditional Gervais fashion, we get an ambiguously positive ending. Brent failed as a mainstage musician, but he may have found happiness in an office romance. It’s a fitting end to a beloved character, which is possibly what the film does best. It never strays from what we know or expect of the character. Where this has been the downfall to films such as The Bad Education Movie (2015) it feels right at home here. I hope this isn’t the end of David Brent, it’d be nice to see where he goes next. At least the soundtrack was better than the shit La La Land (2016) spat up.