David Brent: Life on the Road—Quite a lot like the old boss

Mark Reynolds

Will Britain’s favourite socially awkward misfit get fooled again as he recklessly pursues his longstanding ambition for rock stardom? 

In the 13 years since saying farewell to his ex-colleagues at Wernham Hogg, David Brent has worked as a travelling salesman, suffered a breakdown and recovered from a temporary addiction to Prozac. Now back on his feet as a rep for cleaning products-to-personal hygiene wholesaler Lavichem, he’s taking a three-week sabbatical to embark on a multi-venue tour of Berkshire.

Recalibrating his band Foregone Conclusion with reluctant but hard-up session musicians, Brent hits the road with his rapper protégé Dom (Doc Brown, a.k.a. Ben Bailey Smith), promising a baffling fusion of reggae, rock, funk and country sounds, “new romantic, but modern. A bit Bublé, a bit David Essex.”

The songs are a window into Brent’s psyche, riddled with feeble misconceptions, murky streams of consciousness and multiple layers of social incompetence. Standing up for the rights of the downtrodden, he has Dom sing:

 

Black people aren’t lazy
And dwarves aren’t babies
You can’t just pick ’em up
They got rights
And anyway don’t assume you could
They’re not light

 

Elsewhere he falls in love with a Lady Gypsy (“She was a traveller, but she was pretty / And clean”), and defends the indigenous peoples of America ("Oh Native American / Soar like an eagle sit like a pelican”) and the disabled (“Whether mental in the head or / Mental in the legs, / Doesn’t mean their sorrow doesn’t show”).

The tunes are catchily arranged, with production input from ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows—who plays in the band—and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who gamely sends himself up in the backing vocal to ‘Electricity’, “a song about ordinary everyday things being magical in their own way.”

Read more: David Brent's funniest moments

 

 

The film is more juggernaut than tour bus, with tie-ins including a soundtrack album and a songbook for piano, vocal and guitar, and two sell-out gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo.  It’s fun to have Brent back, and Ricky Gervais slips into his skin with gleeful ease.

Unlike the TV series, the film is written and directed solely by Gervais, for Gervais to star in, and the material is a touch more self-indulgent than the unimprovable 12 episodes and two-part Christmas special he co-created with Stephen Merchant.

There’s some nimble support from Bailey Smith and Tom Basden’s sound engineer Dan, who sort of share the Tim role of loyal but irritated cohort. But other characters are a bit thinly drawn and overfamiliar, especially in the office scenes where virtual clones of Gareth, Dawn and Finchy are lumped in. Though in some sense this confirms that Brent’s unstinting ability to rub people up the wrong way will always attract general disdain and vitriol, tempered with a teeny bit of compassion and understanding.

 

 

After some excruciatingly funny moments of cringingly bad behaviour and merciless failure, the film dashes to a warmhearted climax in which—akin to the series finale—Brent gains a modicum of self-knowledge, acceptance, and even the prospect of an office romance.

It feels a lot like a last outing for a character who has run his course. But don’t rule out another retread in about a decade when Brent reaches pensionable age and understands the folly of cashing in his annuities in pursuit of the impossible dream.

 

David Brent: Life on the Road is out now in UK cinemas.

Buy the 10th-anniversary box set of The Office

For stories, tips and lots of laughs, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter