It seems appropriate that as Ricky Gervais morphs into his most famous creation in real life, he should revisit him on the big screen. Thirteen years after The Office David Brent is back and he is as gloriously cringy as ever.
David Brent: Life On The Road finds Brent in a similar situation to the one The Office found him in; working as a sales rep, he is stuck in the humdrum of the 9 to 5 and surrounded by people who mainly think he’s a prat. The difference is, he’s no longer the boss, and he’s now dreaming of getting away. To be more precise, he’s planning on hitting the road with his rock band (or hired studio musicians) Foregone Conclusion.
Where David Brent lives and dies is whether that cringe-inducing humour is funny or distasteful and Life On The Road more often than not sits in the middle of those two. For every moment where he is paying his band £25 an hour (each) to have a drink with him, there is one where he pesters his black friend into calling him the N word. You can claim that those jokes aren’t racist because it’s the way the character is but that doesn’t make them funny.
Brent also suffers when he is taken away from the cast that comprised The Office. The key to the success of that program was that as much as Brent was its comic centre, others were providing the heart. You grew to care about their normal lives, and that made surviving the toe-curling humour easier. Life On The Road attempts to flip that. Here, Brent is meant to be the heart of the film, and most of the people surrounding him are awful. As he puts more and more money into this tour and the band speak less and less to him, we are supposed to feel sorry for him. However, it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for a guy that is that unlikable. The kind of guy who is happy to lie to his friends about sleeping with a girl who stayed in his hotel room but doesn’t want them to know that she was a bit overweight.
Thankfully there is some heart to proceedings, mainly through the character of Dom portrayed by Doc Brown. A young rapper who Brent is supposed to be managing – but in reality is there to rap on a couple of his songs each night and to prove he isn’t racist. Despite this, he is one of the only people who gives Gervais’s creation the time of day. He’s a good man and even as it becomes apparent that Brent has only his own interests at heart, he stands by his ‘friend’. It’s the one character that the audience can grasp on to as a good egg.
David Brent: Life On The Road has its moments where it captures that magic, where you are part covering your eyes with your hands and part roaring with laughter. If you go and throw on the soundtrack, the odds are you will catch at least one or two of those moments. However, much like Gervais himself, it is a little bit too self-satisfied to ever truly succeed.