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It may not come as too much of a surprise to learn that David Brent can’t quite carry an entire feature film all on his own – but there’s humour enough in Life on the Road to justify the project, even if it falls considerably short of the ensemble excellence that made The Office so beloved and lionised. Anyone who felt that Swindon’s king of cringe deserved another visit will be sated without feeling the real delight of Brent at his worst and – yeah – his best. Gervais is shrewd enough to realise that Brent’s song-writing was the greatest untapped resource of his entertainment-with-a-message credo.
So, the film takes the form of a musical road movie, with Brent personally financing an exorbitant tour of Berkshire. He’s living out yet another sad delusion, and he’s taking a band of exasperated session musicians with him. This includes Dom (Doc Brown) an evidently talented rapper and musician, who Brent marginalises in order to take centre stage, and Dan (Tom Basden) his reluctant tour manager who plays a foil to Brent in the same manner as his old Wernham Hogg boss, Neil. It’s more This Is Spinal Tap than it is Don’t Look Back – and they even throw in their own ‘David Bent’ gag for good measure.
The songs are always funny – but it becomes obvious, as with some of his other post-Office
projects, that pathos is not Gervais’ strong suit. Attempts to humanise Brent push too far into mawkish territory even as we’re still supposed to be laughing at his grotesquery: it doesn’t quite add up. The film carries something of an anti-bullying message, which feels odd since it comes from the pen of a man who has enjoyed a lucrative career from a brand of comedy which, more often than not, is scornful in its mockery. The single biggest issue is that you quickly become acclimatised to the awkwardness because there’s not much in the way of a secondary story line. This means that certain jokes – in particular, Brent’s stupefying insensitivity to racial politics – become gratingly one-note, quite quickly. It mostly holds together, but you’d have to hope that David Brent: Life on the Road
represents the farewell tour.