Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith
Director: Ricky Gervais
It’s sometimes difficult to work out what Ricky Gervais actually does these days. If you take out the round-headed one known as Karl for a second, but for the dreary and quickly forgettable series Life’s Too Short and Derek, it’s meagre pickings. Gervais seems to continue to cement his position in UK comedy royalty simply with movie cameos and controversial award ceremony host roles. It’s hardly surprising then that he should follow up this year’s utterly garbage Special Correspondents with a return to his roots as the beloved David Brent.
Brent is back working as a sales rep, this time for a company selling, among other things, women’s sanitary products (Chubby Brown couldn’t have set him up better). Yet the blazing dream of becoming a rock star still lives on within him. Gervais always built a little of himself into Brent and one of the most noticeable synergises was in the failed musician stakes – Gervais himself was in 80s New Romantic also-rans Seona Dancing. So, armed with credit cards and cashed-in pension plans, Brent takes his band, Foregone Conclusion, now made up entirely of embarrassed paid session musicians and a rapper he is meant to be managing, and heads on a predictably disastrous tour of East Berkshire.
Brent has always been tragic, yet never knew he was, and that was his grotesque beauty. Since leaving Wernnam Hogg he has been to therapy, had a nervous breakdown, considered his place in life; all of which has left him in a much more emotionally reflective and increasingly dejected disposition. And that’s the killer blow for Life on the Road; gone is the screaming megalomaniac dripping in self-grandeur – you know, the funny Brent – and been replaced with a man in the throes of a final midlife crisis who is shockingly quite relatable.
There are technical and continuity annoyances too. As with the Office, this is meant to be a documentary, yet the changing camera angles would be impossible to pull off without getting in each other’s sight-lines. The band too look completely shocked by Brent’s lyrics while onstage yet they’ve been rehearsing with him for weeks. Small points but these niggles act as a constant distraction.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of the old beloved Brent in here. The direct-to-camera monologues accidentally digging himself deeper into the world of human resources nightmares are occasionally on show and give by far the biggest laughs. The mess he gets himself in when attempting to describe his ex-girlfriends weight-loss is a genius Brent moment, yet in a way only acts to amplify the drop in comedic moments for the next twenty or so minutes.
The Office excelled because of a wonderful supporting cast, each with their own neuroses, stories and tragedies. Life on the Road is thoroughly The David Brent show and although Bailey Smith puts in a solid performance as the young rapper baffled by his manager’s actions, all other characters feel like margin notes, nowhere near enough time is given to even attempt to develop them.
Legacies are fickle things; Coogan’s wonky feature-length Partridge just about delivered, but then his East Anglian radio maniac has never been particularly developed. The scenarios may change but big-screen Partridge is basically the same lunatic who shouted ‘SHIT’ while commentating on pre-World Cup 94 football. Gervais’s obvious love for Brent makes him feel the necessity to evolve the character’s sensitivity and it falls flat; the same format but with droopier emotional edge.
Life on the Road has its moments but they are few and far between. Why Gervais decided to revisit Brent only he will know (nostalgia, unfinished business, lack of creative ideas? It certainly can’t be for the cash), but with a full Foregone Conclusion tour on the cards, we won’t be seeing the back of him for a while yet. The movie delivers what most thought it would; a watered down and mainly unfunny ninety-minute outing of Ricky Gervais self-gratification.
3 / 10