When Ricky Gervais announced a David Brent film, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a cash grab. Fifteen years since The Office first aired on BBC, thirteen since the Christmas special finale and with Gervais always saying he would never bring it back for an Office movie; and yet here we are in 2016 with a film centred on the socio-philosophical, “friend, boss, entertainer” David Brent, central figure of that original series. Gervais has tried to bypass any criticism that may come his way over David Brent: Life on the Road being an apparent change of heart by stating that this is not a movie version of The Office. Technically, I guess we have to allow him that much. This film is only a continuation of Brent’s story and in that case lends itself to be more accurately described as a spin-off. Thankfully, this means fans of the awarding-winning and phenomenally successful BBC series can choose to disregard this film in order to retain their love of the original series.
Let us start with the positives: the soundtrack. Gervais has a real musical talent. Despite limited success with his 1980s pop duo “Seona Dancing”, he has touched on writing and performing more comical songs during his time at the now defunct Xfm and during the popular “Training” episode of the first series of The Office. Gervais has appeared several times as Brent outside the series and for the most part this has been to perform from Brent’s musical repertoire. Gervais has a knack for writing songs so stupid yet sincere in their lyrics, that the results are almost always hilarious. From the ridiculous “Lady Gypsy” to the heart-warming love-letter “Slough”, the songs are not the issue here.
Soundtrack aside, Life on the Road feels ultimately pointless, particularly as a theatrical release. Brent is working as a sales representative (similarly to the Christmas special) selling, among other things, tampons (a throwaway joke ripped directly from the Christmas special). No longer the boss but a member of a team otherwise made up of forgettable and bare-bone characters: the bully, the friend, a couple of empathisers. But this is a story on the road, some will argue, and so the characters Brent encounters enroute will be more fleshed out as they are more central to the plot. Nope. Arguably, other than Ben Bailey Smith’s rapping Dom Johnson, whom we previously met in Brent’s Comic Relief single “Equality Street”, the supporting characters are flat and in some cases completely interchangeable. It seems when not working together with writing-partner and co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant, there is always something lacking. All we know is Brent’s “Foregone Conclusion” bandmates and their sound engineer Dan (Tom Basden), do not like him. They frequently exclude him from anything other than the necessary performances on tour, and the only reason they even contemplate spending time with Brent is because he pays them. The only possible reaction to such a plot, is for audiences to empathise with Brent, even if you increasingly see where the band is coming from.
Despite the implied journey of a film called Life on the Road, this is sadly non-existent. The story moves from one location to another but nothing really develops with the possible exception of Brent becoming increasingly pathetic. This comes to a head when he predictably tears up with about five minutes remaining and suddenly Dan says he likes him, despite showing no signs of this previously, and the band want to drink and have a laugh with him (at least in montage form). It’s an ending more than a conclusion, and a very lazy one at that. It’s also surprisingly lacking in laughs (again, aside from the soundtrack). Throw in Brent suddenly clicking with another undeveloped female colleague and we can just write this whole thing off completely.
The Office, 12 episodes plus two Christmas specials, is near perfect. Stick to that and David Brent’s tale ends pretty perfectly too.