I’m always sceptical when a successful sitcom decides to move onto the big screen. So when Ricky Gervais announced that iconic character David Brent was to return after 13 years for Life On The Road, I could only see the film tainting the success of The Office.
As a film, Life On The Road won’t win any prizes, and Gervais is still at his best writing 2 series of a sitcom. However, I shouldn’t have worried – Brent is back and he hasn’t changed one bit.
The premise of the film is a straightforward one. Brent still harbours his dream of being famous, so decides to cash in numerous pensions to fund a 3 week rock tour with his band Foregone Conclusion in an attempt to get signed by a record label.
As you would expect, the tour is a cringe-worthy disaster and leaps from incredibly un-PC songs like ‘Native American’ and ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ to awkward drinks and encounters with women.
Brent is assisted by rapper Dom Johnson, played by Ben Bailey-Smith (aka Doc Brown). The character was first seen in a 2013 Comic Relief sketch marking 10 years of The Office, where he joined Brent for a music video of ‘Equality Street’ – the infamous political reggae song referenced in the sitcom.
Bailey-Smith is impressive, and perhaps even under-used, and deserves a lot of credit for keeping a straight face when Brent finds hilarious ways to reference the character’s race (I challenge anyone not to laugh during a scene where Brent attempts to talk football, in particular England, with the band).
But Gervais still manages to make Brent likeable throughout. David Brent is a man who just wants to be liked, so despite more faux pas than any fan of The Office could have expected or hoped for, you can’t help but root for him.
‘Go get the guitar…’
The very thought of a Brent film was a risky one, mainly because Gervais was playing with the legacy of The Office, not just a one-off movie. But Life On The Road is far enough away from the 2001 sitcom to remain separate. If anything, the film complements the series as Brent is more crude, but there is space for more exploration of his genius character.
For fans of the Office, Gervais included many well-received references to the series. A number of songs performed on the tour were referenced in The Office, while the soundtrack features former theme-song ‘Handbags and Gladrags’. Brent’s famous laugh and way with words are integral to the film’s talking heads, and immediately remind you exactly what you’ve been missing over the last decade.
I’d have maybe liked to hear more of the songs, and there was unfortunately no place for ‘Freelove Freeway’, which was a particular highlight of the series. Still, I’ll definitely be buying Brent’s album which will showcase anything the film couldn’t include.
There’s no cameos from former The Office favourites either, which allows the film to distance itself from the series, and it’s probably a good decision on Gervais’ part. However, there is still room in Brent’s new office for a dopey colleague who idolises the rep, a kind receptionist, and a bullying senior rep. If the formula isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Since The Office ended in 2003, Gervais has continued to explore the ideas of fame and of ordinary kindness. There are elements of Extras’ Andy Millman in Brent’s desire to become famous, while his assertion that ‘I might have failed, but at least I’ve tried’ has shades of themes explored in Derek.
The closing stages of Life On The Road have a familiar heartwarming feeling to Gervais’ work that underline his politically incorrect comedy – look out in particular for a sensitive performance of Brent’s colleague Pauline, played by Jo Hartley.
Throughout, Gervais combines humour and morals. He isn’t afraid for Brent to discuss anything, from women to horrifically racist impressions to mental illness. Still, the comedy comes from Brent’s non-existent filter, rather than the content of what he is saying.
Brent is Back
If any fan of The Office was worried about Life On The Road’s chances of spoiling the series they love, they have nothing to worry about. The film is hilarious yet excruciating to watch, and has a unique ability to make you love a character that you probably shouldn’t.
If there’s a comparison between Life On The Road and The Office, the series will always win hands down. But, Gervais has managed to create a film that is different enough to the series that allows fans to enjoy David Brent at his cringe-worthy best.
Maybe Brent was right when he said ‘a good idea is a good idea forever’… 4 stars.