Film review - David Brent: Life on the Road

Ricky Gervais and Doc Brown as Dom Johnson. PIC: PA
Ricky Gervais and Doc Brown as Dom Johnson. PIC: PA
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Our pleasure is Ricky Gervais’ self-inflicted pain in David Brent: Life On The Road, a toe-curling faux documentary comedy that catches up with the politically incorrect title character as he embarks on a quest for musical nirvana with his band, Foregone Conclusion.

Life and art are blurred in Gervais’ script, which plays like a cover version of his award-winning TV series The Office, replete with a wince-inducing scene of dad dancing that is supposed to attract the fairer sex.

“I’m no lothario, but he is the worst person around women I have ever seen,” confesses a pitying band mate.

Without The Office co-writer Stephen Merchant to rein in his self-indulgence behind the camera, Gervais puts his middle-aged misfit centre stage for every excruciating set piece, including a heartfelt and hilariously misguided rendition of Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disableds.

Consequently, some of the supporting players are thinly sketched and a gossamer thin romantic subplot is almost surplus to requirements.

Music reunions are always big business, so it’s understandable that Gervais would want to revisit past glories here and resurrect a dithering everyman, whose lack of graces and self-awareness repeatedly cuts to the bone.

It has been 12 years since David Brent (Gervais) awkwardly ruled the roost at the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg Paper Company. He’s now a travelling salesman at Lavichem, peddling sanitary products with gusto and irritating his work colleagues including office bully Jezza (Andrew Brooke) and HR manager Miriam (Rebecca Gethings).

Brent does have a few supporters, including Pauline from accounts (Jo Hartley), who has a crush on him, and receptionist Karen (Mandeep Dhillon).

“The ghost of Alexander O’Neal visited me one night and said, ‘You have got what it takes’,” explains Brent, who plunders his savings to hire a despairing road manager (Tom Basden) and a quartet of talented sessions musicians, including his nephew Stu (Stuart Wilkinson) on guitar.

A rapper called Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith aka Doc Brown) joins Foregone Conclusion to bolster the band’s yoof appeal as the mutinous and motley crew embarks on a tour of venues close to the Lavichem office.

David Brent: Life On The Road is peppered with uproarious one-liners and moments of skin-crawling brilliance that confirm Gervais as a master of unflattering observation.

Music performances include the stand-out track Native American and a reprise of the 2013 Comic Relief song, Equality Street.

The mockumentary conceit isn’t consistent and the sentimentality of the band’s final performance feels contrived, but it’s nice to have some sweetness to cut through the film’s acidic brand of humour.

Rating: ***

On general release

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