Thirteen years after becoming a minor celebrity from appearing in the BBC documentary series, The Office; David Brent (Ricky Gervais) is back in front of the cameras and chasing his life long dream of becoming a rock star and leaving behind the office life. He partners up with an aspiring rapper, Dom (Doc Brown) and assembles a band to go on a frustratingly local tour around England under the name Forgone Conclusion.
Something that I think will be rattling around many people’s heads is whether or not this will be as good as The Office, so I may as well nip that in the bud now and say no, it’s not. But it’s still quite good.
It follows Brent in his last few days working as a sales rep for Wernham Hogg, giving us a glimpse of where he’s at in life, which is nowhere new. Much like in The Office, he’s utterly desperate for attention, approval and friendship and plays this up even more in front of the cameras, which sears in some deep cringe early on so you know exactly what you’re in for.
His only friends in life are Dom, who seems to be his friend out of sheer awkwardness, Pauline (Jo Hartley) a work colleague of Brent’s that has a blatant crush on him and Nigel (Tom Bennett) another co-worker who gets him on every level. As with a few characters in The Office, they’re the only ones who see him for what he really is; a good natured man who is flawed to bits and determined to please everybody; not some offensive moron who purposely gets on everyone’s nerves. However he does have more mean spirited colleagues who berate him at all times, constantly put him down and try shatter his dreams. The worst of which being Jezza (Andrew Brooke), who clearly has it in for him and Nigel.
In a bid to prove to himself and his begrudgers that he’s not a loser, he pursues a new career in hilariously generic dad-rock music. For the last few years he’s been managing Dom with his rap career but has somehow shoehorned himself into the spotlight and made it all about him, using Dom’s backing band, studio time and sound engineer to make his own music. He creates the band Forgone Conclusion and books himself a fortnight of gigs in a slew of Z-list venues and sets off on his life changing tour.
Using his pension, he is hemorrhaging money into this tour providing all accommodation for his band and crew as well as paying them for gigs that got no sales. He’s constantly sucking the energy out of any social encounter with the band, giving disastrous crowd-turning performances, pushing the band further away and on top of that, pushing Dom, who is basically his only friend on the tour, further away.
It was always going to be difficult to do a follow up to one of the best TV shows of all time and while Ricky Gervais made a great attempt, it didn’t really hit the mark. It suffers some the same issues that The Inbetweeners film had; they had a top notch TV show that despite all its crude sexual humour, was a brilliantly written piece of television. The show pushed a lot of boundaries on TV which meant the film had to be crazier and more gratuitous. Anyone who has seen both Inbetweeners films will know that while they were entertaining, they’re not a patch on any episode of the series.
The way this film suffers that same fate is at least on a more realistic level, but in a sense more unlikely. In The Office, Brent makes a fool of himself a whole lot, but it’s often in minor scenes throughout a 6 episode season; with this we’re given just over 90 minutes of full on Brent embarrassment. Almost every single scene he’s in (bar one or two dramatic ones) he is making a complete arse of himself, which is at times hilarious, but it just doesn’t fit with the realistic tone of The Office. Thankfully it doesn’t completely go in the direction of The Inbetweeners Movie by making him do heinous things for the sake of shock value, but his buffoonery is definitely turned up to 11. It’s also nice to see a film where the cast aren’t whisked off on a holiday to somewhere exotic, which seems to be the trope with almost every TV to film sequel. The only holiday in this is in the same country and an hour’s drive from his house.
I feel like it has a similar documentary style to Parks and Recreation, where the whole show just unfolds and occasionally features mini interviews with the characters, unlike The Office in which it genuinely looks like a documentary. The comedy is handled really well throughout and features some of the most squirm inducing scenes of face palming cringe. Even the cinema security were averting their eyes in sheer embarrassment, which is a success if you ask me. As I mentioned above my only real gripe with the comedy is the fact it’s a over the top given its source material but it’s still always good. It’s humorous all the way through but there’s only select moments that are truly side splitting. A wise move on behalf of the editors was to include all of the best bits of the trailer within the first 10 mins or so, so it meant the following 80 minutes were almost entirely fresh.
I’m glad to see Gervais himself directing again, giving him full control over his project. He generally knocks it out of the park but after the awful Special Correspondents earlier this year, it’s great to see him back on track. I personally think he’s a master at handling dramatic moments and while they’re scarce enough in here, they do shine with his usual touch of sweetness. That’s helped of course by the top quality acting from everyone on board. Even with all his goofy shit, Brent is still totally believable as a person. It’s a great exploration of his character showing his recovery from a serious stint of depression following The Office and getting his life back on track.
As for the soundtrack, it’s exactly what I mentioned before: generic dad-rock. The songs are often funny and are catchy enough but at the end of the day, they’re just goofy rock songs you’d expect to find on a Top Gear issued CD of ‘Songs To Drive An Aston Martin To’.
I’m already dying to see what the home video release will have in store for us in the way of extras – no doubt containing hysterical bloopers and possible deleted scenes. It’ll probably by out by X-Mas and it’s safe to say I’d be happy to find it in my stocking… if I’d ever hang one up.
David Brent: Life On The Road is in cinemas from today.