David Brent: Life on the Road
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, August 2016
The Office may have ended in 2003, but its creator and star, Ricky Gervais, seems hardly to have disappeared in the intervening decade. There were a couple of underwhelming comedic forays into Hollywood (Ghost Town, The Invention of Lying) and he’s a vehement animal rights activist on Twitter, but notably Gervais reared his head in recent years to offend the Hollywood Foreign Press at the Golden Globes. Say what you like about his frequently line-crossing crassness (OK, I will – Ricky, rein it in a little, mate), ambling on stage with a pint is a nice touch, and I defy anyone to say the man isn’t a brave comic genius.
Of course, to most of us Ricky Gervais is David Brent, the excruciating office manager of a small paper business in Slough who never quite realised how others saw him with rather more disdain than respect. And thanks once again to Gervais’ pitch-perfect blend of edgy humour and devastating pathos, Brent is back: no longer The Man but now working for The Man as a sales rep for sanitary products.
With four hearty laughs in the first two minutes, David Brent: Life on the Road starts with promise and goes on to be an immensely satisfying, sometimes uncomfortable, return to form. Brent, who fronts a soft-rock band in his spare time, takes leave without pay and a group of reluctant session musicians on an expensive tour of his local area. Staying at bland suburban hotels while teeing up under-subscribed gigs, the rockstar experience this middle-aged man has always longed for becomes hard-earned and at times frankly embarrassing.
Brent is also a changed man: he still makes racist jokes but stresses “it’s from the Chinaman’s perspective – for once”, aided and abetted in his gasp-inducing audacity by Love & Friendship’s standout Tom Bennett (taking the dopey Mackenzie Crook role here). Brent even has a black friend (a young rapper whose deadpan is wonderfully natural and believable).
Amidst the film’s quieter, less hysterical moments there is a deeper ache than The Office belied, and his performance frequently proves Gervais as a genuinely terrific actor. Love for David Brent may hurt, but it’s worth it.