Writer: Ricky Gervais
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Tom Basden, Jo Hartley, Tom Bennett, Andy Burrows, Nina Sosanya
Running time: 96mins
What’s the story: One time reality TV star David Brent takes an unpaid sabbatical from his job repping for Slough lavatory company Lavichem to embark on a self-funded rock n’ roll tour. In tow is his reluctant protégé, young rapper Dom, exasperated road manager Dan, and agog session musicians. All caught on camera by the returning documentary crew. Will Brent find fame and the free love freeway?
What’s the verdict: When it ended with a perfect Christmas double bill back in 2003, The Office had David Brent reclaim his soul, got him a girlfriend and pulled off a humdinger of a happy ending.
Surprising then when the first trailer for David Brent: Life on the Road had him back to his boorish, arse-clenchingly embarrassing ways. Was creator Ricky Gervais, working without Office co-creator Stephen Merchant, selling out for a fast buck?
No. Gloriously no. This builds on the good work of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and hopefully will exorcise the memory of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie.
While related to The Office, this big screen David Brent is a sort of alternate ending to the classic series. Brent is still chasing fame, still unaware of his comedic shortcomings and still penning melodically okay but tin-eared right-on anthems (penned by Gervais and Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows). Cringe highlights include Equality Street and the masterpiece Native American – sample: “Oh Native American / Soar like an eagle, sit like a pelican”. The ghost of Gervais’ 80s New Wave group Seona Dancing hovers near…
Although still stuck in Slough, the world has changed since Brent was silently suffered by Tim, Dawn, Gareth and the Wernham-Hogg crew. The Lavichem massive are like a gang of uber-Finchies; caustic, withering alpha-males. A kindred spirit of sorts is fellow naff prankster Nigel (Bennett), while quiet supporter Pauline (Hartley) sees through the bluff and bravado.
As Brent embarks upon his comeback tour of the pubs, clubs and ironic student nights of Berkshire with band Foregone Conclusion MK II (“not the original line-up” he informs bemused crowds), Gervais does that tonal bait and switch at which he is so adept.
Frequent moments of sustained comic brilliance hit all the right notes, (a trip to HR to discuss Brent’s humourous stylings, a session in the psychiatrist’s office) and the comedy of embarrassment is perfectly balanced on a knife edge of hilarity and look-away horror.
But, what shifts Life on the Road into five-star fifth gear is the emotion Gervais injects into his delusional comic foil as the tour spirals ever more into Spinal Tap territory. Brent is hard work and a nightmare to be around as he desperately attempts a normal conversation. But there is real pathos to his dream chasing that is heartbreaking and all too believable in our fame hungry times.
Luckily Gervais sidesteps the maudlin of Derek series 2. Brent’s bewildered backing band, led by road manager Dan (Basden), undercut mawkishness with spot-on observations of their terrible boss. Doc Brown’s Dom shyly unleashes genuinely decent rapping that stands in stark relief to Foregone Conclusion.
Using the visual style of Spinal Tap, Scorsese’s The Last Waltz and The Office as cue-points, this is all handsomely mounted, the sights, sounds and smells captured by Fred Claus cinematographer Remi Adefarasin.
Add in Gervais-friendly themes of celebrity, self-worth, self-delusion and acceptance, all expertly woven into the comedy fabric, and you literally have a David slaying this year’s summer blockbuster Goliaths.
The only other thing that would make this perfect is a beautiful final shot. Ah, it has that too.