Review: David Brent: Life on the Road

by Decky Donohoe

“Soar like an eagle, sit like a pelican.”

Well, look who shows up as if on a watch set to when the world is at its most weary. Following a circus of a US election run and spate of sad, celebrity deaths, Brent rises from the ashes as less of a phoenix and more of a misguided, underappreciated… Pelican?

Ricky Gervais has become almost inseparable from his on screen persona; when out of the limelight for too long he needs to pop up, as if public scorn is his raison d’etre. That cheeky grin and badly dyed goatee just serve to remind me that, above all, I have missed David Brent. His character shows that while you have your own dark fears of social humiliation, at least you have not been (soberly) flash dancing for acceptance or publically dedicating a song about disability to the only wheelchair bound patron in the venue.

Turning the cringe factor up to 11 means we tread some familiar tropes. Yes, there is social and political (in)correctness, race and body image based humour. And the way the cast just brick-walls Brent’s attempts at getting a laugh from them is seriously effective. Just try and watch him “breaking” into his own green room and be unable to stop talking about drugs (“it’s only a bit of weed…”) without your face cringing so hard it feels like a black hole has started in your nose. It’s what Gervais does best.

However, we meet the character of Brent at a strange time. Everyone knows him and the formula, so the cast of the show already know him and have formed their opinions. This leaves the film not only feeling a bit staged, but also a bit perfunctory. Gone are the colourful cast that made The Office not only a side splitting comedy, but also deeply heartfelt and moving. We have no one else to feel sorry for, no one to root for and no one to hate for being rude to our helpless characters. There is only David (small, under developed sub-plots aside) and for that the experience rings a little hollow.

Nostalgia for the 80s and for the original Office is abound and make no mistake, Ricky Gervais plays this as if he is a bottomless well of Brent material. This could exist anywhere at any time and the character would be funny in any situation. It is just finding that right setting that was so key to past successes, which seems to have run aground here. We have lost a connection to our everyman and flounder along with Brent, which may just be intentional.

Forget the box office results and celebrate the next chapter in David’s life. Not as your first helping though, as The Office should serve as the beginning to your Odyssey of Brent. There was real heart, real heart ache and a want from the audience for the characters to make it and be happy. The heart hasn’t been wholly lost in this outing but when the focus is on David it’s easy for Gervais to pull the pity card on us without a valid, emotional backdrop.

The loneliness and self-delusion of the character are quickly righted again and since Brent never learns his lesson, are we going to feel truly, deeply sorry for him? As I said at the start, he and Gervais are inseparable so I find it hard to feel sorry for one of the richest (highly praised, award-winning) and most successful comedians of all time.

Or is that just me?

Didn’t think so.

Thanks for reading and comment below!

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