Director: Ricky Gervais
Writer: Ricky Gervais
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Rob Jarvis, Abbie Murphy
David Brent: Life on the Road is a spin-off come sequel to ‘The Office’, the critically acclaimed show which originally spawned the character. It’s been thirteen years since we were last properly introduced to Mr. Brent and he’s been through some rough times, which have included a mental breakdown and a Prozac addiction. He’s apparently learned nothing from his previous mistakes and jumps into yet another documentary, chronicling the latest chapter of his life.
Opening to the sound of ‘A Life on the Road’, we’re reintroduced to the current day Brent, as he goes about his business as a sales rep for the Slough based Lavichem. Inviting cameras into his life once again, he enters his new office environment where the new ensemble of work colleagues are also introduced. There’s Karen; the bored looking receptionist; Pauline, a distant admirer who works in an adjoining room of the main office; Jezza, the bald, arrogant, office bully and finally Nigel; a Gareth clone and fellow joker come buddy. It doesn’t take long for the focus of his latest documentary to emerge, with Brent speaking to his boss, requesting three weeks leave and plowing a sizeable portion of his pension into one final attempt at pursuing a career in music.
The group of session musicians forming his ‘Forgone Conclusion’ mark II band make it blatantly obvious they dislike his company, kicking him off the tour bus that he paid for and forcing him to follow behind in his ‘Insignia’, whilst sound engineer Dan (Tom Basden) and long suffering rapper acquaintance Dom (Doc Brown) merely tolerate him. Brent hasn’t changed a bit either and his early struggles to organise a tour that doesn’t escape the boundaries of Berkshire were an amusing throwback to what made the Office such a hit, often facing similar struggles in the managerial role during his time at Wernham Hogg. Some of his interactions with the band, including an excruciatingly long, lingering moment at a dressing room door, and his blissful ignorance at some of his contentious songs lyrics were equal parts hilarious and cringeworthy.
The tour starts awfully with the band opening to an empty venue; with a frantic Brent demanding that people be let in for free to avoid playing to nobody. Things don’t improve much in the subsequent gigs. The band are thoroughly fed up, whilst Dan can’t understand the need for remaining on the road, with the venues at times being closer to his home than the hotels. Brent is still full of optimism, however, and with a packed student gig on the horizon, he employs a publicist to promote them, somehow finding time for a ridiculous photo shoot and a disastrous radio appearance that devolves into a game of ‘pie or sausage’. The student night goes exactly as you’d expect. Brent’s decision to open with a cringe inducing, ill advised, joke about his audience being lazy perhaps not being the wisest of decisions. As the tour progresses, money slowly but surely begins to run out, culminating with David and Dom having to share a hotel room. This inevitably leads to some hilarity as the latter questions the lyrical choices of the former during the penning of Native American, an ode to the oppressed indigenous people of the US, which features lyrically genius lines such as “soars like an eagle, sinks like a pelican”.
We’re given an illuminating insight into the lonely persona of David when, feeling envious and just a little bit left out at the ease of which his fellow band members seem to be pulling members of the opposite sex, he sets about finding a partner of his own. What follows is a painfully awkward night with two women he takes back to his shared hotel room, following a desperate opportunistic meeting at a cash line outside one of the gig venues. The astonishingly dull women are clearly using him to raid champagne and snacks from the rooms fridge, with poor Brent left to foot the bill.
It’s around this point too that Don’t Make Fun of the Disabled’s gets an airing to a dumbfounded audience, with a wheelchair bound man present, that Brent seems to dedicate the song to. The band are seen commenting in talking head interviews that they’ve never been more embarrassed. David is in no mood for giving up his dream however and contacts a record company, who subsequently send a talent spotter to the next gig. The representative walks out midway through the first song, impressed with Dom’s brief cameo, but unsurprisingly, completely disinterested in Brent who opens with a reggae number. Said reggae inspired song involving the following, “Black people aren’t crazy, fat people aren’t lazy, and dwarfs aren’t babies”. David hits his lowest ebb from a personal stance at this stage. Beginning with him demanding that Dom ask the band to drink with him after the gig, commenting that he’s paying them after all, and ending with the band requesting a £25 hourly fee for the pleasure. The fact he actually agrees to this ridiculous request is a saddening example of his overwhelming desire to be liked.
As the tour enters its final stages with the penultimate gig taking place at a ‘Battle of Bands’ event. Only two fans turn up for Foregone Conclusion, which forces them to open. Brent sings Native American which unsurprisingly flops, but Dom who refuses to go on stage wearing a ridiculous costume, gets a chance to shine afterwards and takes it. The same talent spotter from earlier approaches him afterwards and invites him in for a session. A slightly jealous, downhearted looking Brent feigns disinterest in Dom’s big break, though still tries to squeeze his way into a potential record deal as his manager. Dom quickly kicks this idea to the curb. There’s a poignant moment between Dan and David prior to the final gig, involving a touching discussion between the pair, after the band is priced out of a snow machine for the final performance. Dan attempts to restore David’s rock bottom confidence, telling him that he likes him and not to spend anymore money. There’s a final heartwarming moment when Dan surprises the latter with snow during his final Christmas themed song.
There’s a few strong performances at show here. Gervais has the role of Brent and all the awkward, nervous, quirkiness that comes with it down to a fine art and there’s no greater character in a mockumentary style film. It’s perhaps no surprise then that he’s the standout performer here. Tom Bennett plays the role of Nigel, the complete goof ball and comedy, office sidekick very impressively too. Dan portrayed by Tom Basden is a like modern substitute for Tim Canterbury, a thoroughly decent man driven to distraction with Brent’s antics and the clear voice of reason throughout the disastrous tour. He delivers a quietly, strong performance as the sound engineer. Finally, Jo Hartley provided a romantic element as Pauline, the neighbour, work colleague and shy admirer of Brent. Shout out to Doc Brown who returns as the talented, young, charismatic rapper. First seen performing in Equality Street alongside Gervais during a Comic Relief skit, his character very effectively plays off the much older Brent and there’s many humorous moments between the two.
Brent is a tragic character in many ways, harbouring an insatiable lust for popularity and success, regularly using humour as a defence mechanism against his deep rooted insecurities. Gervais wants you to feel sorry for a character that continually gets kicked in the nuts and ostracised by a more brutal, unforgiving modern day society, even more so since the Office over a decade ago. Which is why you can’t help but connect with the man on some level, much like Dom and Dan do, despite being incredibly grating at times. His almost toddler-esque optimism for life and never say die attitude to pursuing his dreams is endearing. This is perfectly encapsulated when the distant session musicians perform a 360 to share a beer with him at the end and his work colleagues come to his defence when the bullying Jezza, a very Finch like character, takes sarcastic shots at Brent following his return to work. There’s a slightly soppy, but necessary, ending with David finally noticing/responding to Pauline’s clear interest in him and inviting her out for a coffee at Costa. This perhaps signalling a new found maturity and acceptance of his life as it is.
Ultimately, as a massive fan of the Office and Gervais, I enjoyed this film. Fans of either will enjoy this. If you dislike Ricky Gervais or weren’t particularly fond of the Office then I’d suggest giving this one a miss.