Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ricky Gervais
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey-Smith, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon, Jo Hartley, Alexander Arnold, Abbie Murphy.
I have not watched the British tv series The Office, so was not sure what to expect from this spin off feature length film. There have been many attempts to extend a 30 minute sitcom to feature length, such as the recent belated Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which was unfortunately laboured, unfunny, past its use by date, and aimed purely at the fans of the series.
David Brent, for the uninitiated, was the central character of The Office, the BBC comedy set in a paper supply company in the bleak industrial British town of Slough and shot in semi-documentary style. It was a sharp ensemble comedy that contained some painful truths about life in an office, with its personal conflicts and office politics. Brent was the pompous and obnoxious middle manager who had a habit of always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He was often clueless about the effects that his off colour jokes and politically incorrect observations had. A grotesque comic character, Brent was the central focus of the show. He was also misguided, clueless, delusional, and socially awkward, and desperately wanted people to like him.
The Office was created by star Ricky Gervais and co-writer Stephen Merchant and was a hugely successful tv series. Even though it only ran for three seasons, from 2001-2003, it was hugely influential, inspiring the US remake that starred Steve Carell, and many other tv series like Modern Family that used the similar mockumentary-like approach.
It’s now thirteen years since The Office finished, and although the character was briefly reprised in a series of Christmas specials and shorts, Gervais obviously felt there was more life left in the character. At the end of the tv series Brent was fired from his job. Now he works as a sales representative for Lavi Chem, a plumbing supply company, but he wants to be something else. Brent has always had a secret aspiration to be a rock star, and now he tries to live his dream. He takes his annual leave and cashes out his pension to fund his dream.
As a younger man he used to be in a band called Foregone Conclusion, but with the rest of the band now unavailable for a variety of reasons, he assembles a bunch of young but reluctant session musicians to accompany him on his final fling to find fame. With the new incarnation of backing band Foregone Conclusion – a rather ironically prescient name given what follows – Brent sets out on a mini tour, playing a number of nearly empty venues in small backwater towns a couple of hours drive from Slough. He hopes to win a recording contract.
Also accompanying the band is a young wannabe rapper named Dom (played by Ben Bailey Smith, from Law & Order UK, etc), who gives the band its street cred. He is actually quite talented but often marginalised by the egotistical Brent.
Brent envisions himself as a visionary songwriter, with some awful, cringeworthy songs with titles like Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disableds or the semi-political Native American, that are as cringeworthy as they sound. There are some original songs written especially for the film, produced by Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows. Surprisingly Gervais can carry a tune.
David Brent: Life On The Road is a belated spinoff from The Office, although there are none of the other regular characters here. Gervais gives us some new characters, but few of them are memorable. There is Brent’s dimwitted new best friend Nigel (played by Tom Bennett, fresh from his scene stealing antics in Love & Friendship); Kaz the office receptionist (Mandeep Dhillon), who is often bemused by Brent’s ill-judged attempts at humour; and Pauline (Jo Hartley), who supports Brent in his dream and even stands up to an office bully who delights in trying to tear him down and dismiss his dreams.
David Brent: Life On The Road is something of a vanity project for Gervais, who is a master of the comedy of embarrassment. Some of the humour was apparently improvised on set, and there are plenty of cringeworthy moments here. But as a satire of life on the road for a band, this somehow lacks that savage irony and bite of the classic This Is Spinal Tap, or even Christopher Guest’s more whimsical and gentler mockumentary A Mighty Wind.
Like many other attempts to transfer a thirty minute sitcom to the big screen though this falls a little flat. Some of the humour is hit and miss, although there are plenty of laugh out loud funny moments throughout that had some members of the preview audience laughing continually. The film is a little self indulgent, and there are some pacing issues that might have been overcome if Gervais had allowed someone else to direct the material.
Hopefully there will be no follow up tour for David Brent and Foregone Conclusion.