I have been looking forward to David Brent: Life on the Road for ages.
Ever The Office fan, I missed Brent’s character and everything about him, and the thought of a reunion bought a skip to my step as I entered the screening. As David Brent’s big beaming face first lit up the screen, I couldn’t help but smile. It was only a matter of seconds before he turned towards camera, breaking the fourth wall with that all knowing Brent smugness.
Brent is back. Older. Not wiser.
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais, this movie is set 15 years after The Office. Brent has moved on and now works as a sales rep. According to the film crew, they have returned to film a ‘where are they now’ type special. According to Brent, it is more of a Rolling Stones type tribute, documenting his new ‘tour’ with his band Foregone Conclusion. It isn’t.
I say ‘tour’ loosely as it is fully funded by Brent’s pension money (“which is now close to what he has put into it”), who has used all his holiday time from work. It would be no spoiler to tell you he doesn’t have many people turning up to his gigs.
Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown) is Brent’s reluctant side kick. Having met the rapper at a gig, Brent offered to be Johnson’s friend, mentor and manager. Johnson accepted, only to soon be shuffled to the side of the stage, as Brent enacts a musical coup to steal the lead singer’s spotlight.
The film is not without surprises. At times it is uncomfortable, a little confronting and unusually dark. There are even layers to Brent that we see for the first time. As a result, the movie and Brent himself are made all that more credible.
We have always perceived Brent as a try hard; a crowd pleaser; a yes man. We know about his vulnerabilities, his sensitivities, his immaturity. We prepare ourselves for his misguided, misinformed and often downright sexist and unintended racist comments.
But there is never any malice. David Brent wants to belong.
He wants to fit in. He feels like his crowd is an 18-20’s crowd, when it is very much not (the double denim, ripped jeans and leather jacket are not exactly on the modern hipster menu). He longs acceptance, love, admiration, respect and friendship. If he would only be himself.
There are messages and morals galore, some of which are blatantly expressed and others implied. We see the pain that exclusion brings. Brent, obviously struggling with social awareness, appears oblivious to how those around him perceive him. He is the embarrassing uncle.
It is impossible not to see Brent’s self-absorption, evidenced by his inability to be happy when success beckons for Dom Johnson, as a disappointing characteristic. But that is David Brent: master of childlike selfishness; craver of attention at all times.
Was there anything that I did not like about this movie?
If I had to pick something it would be the forced awkward laugh that, by the end of the film, felt a touch overused. Obviously though this is trivial, a minor annoyance among the hour and a half of entertaining, quality cinema.
It’s worth commenting that, despite most of the cast inevitably spending their time shaking their heads in disbelief at Brent’s antics, one got the sense that this would have been an awesome movie to be a part of. Gervais would be a great director. The freedom to improvise and work through an idea is stuff of legends, not too dissimilar to the vibe of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As the movie drew to its conclusion, I began feeling quite low and flat. How many knocks can a man take? Like I had been on tour with Brent myself, I felt absolutely exhausted.
Yet ultimately, Gervais chose to end the film on the right note. I survived; the crushing awkwardness had not totally destroyed me. But perhaps more importantly (yes, more important than my survival), I was content with where Brent was left. I felt okay saying goodbye. Peculiar as it may sound, I feel personally invested in this character, as if I personally have known him for 15 years.
Do I want to see a sequel? Yes and no.
I really want to keep watching Brent. I want to know what he is up to; see him succeed and be successful. Yet I also don’t want Gervais to stuff it up, and can’t escape the feeling that I want him to quit while he is ahead. He’s left us in a good place. Let sleeping Brents lie.
If you like David Brent, you probably don’t need me to tell you to go and see his feature film. If you’re unsure because of how much of an uncomfortable character he is, think of it like this: sure he may be a total schmuck, but seeing his movie is like buying him a pint. All he wants is a little boost and friendship, and you can give it to him. Oh, and did I mention that it’s hilarious?
On that note, I’m off to throw away my ripped jeans. I wish I was joking.
Stand by. Brent is back.
My rating: 8.5/10
David Brent: Life on the Road is set for Release on 19th August 2016.