The Foregone Pity for David Brent: Life on the Road
Ricky Gervais returns to the big screen as trainwreck incarnate and main subject of the original iteration of The Office, David Brent.
The mockumentary, also written and directed by Gervais, starts in the drab, four-cornered world of the average workplace. Hoping to ride his self perceived celebrity from the turn of the millennium exposé, Brent ditches his daily gig as a bathroom supplies salesman to be a wannabe rock star and front man to his band, Foregone Conclusion. Brent ill-advisedly cashes out several pensions and savings to pay for a gratuitous tour through small English clubs, complete with a turquoise tour bus that he’s not allowed on. Joined by his friend and rapper, Dom Johnson (Doc Brown), sound engineer Dan (Tom Basden) and a backing band of typical indie rockers, the journey of sheer reluctance rolls painfully down various motorways.
The oblivious and cringeworthy Brent explains over asides to the camera about his dreams of being signed to a record label and will spare no expense in trying to make that happen. Everyone on tour naturally hates him and in their own petite segments explain their disdain for Brent’s constant intrusions and desperate attempts to hang out with them. At one point, Brent pays the band an hourly rate to have a drink with him. This ongoing hatred for Brent just continues to grow as they bomb on stage over and over again.
Brent’s stabs at humor in the workplace touch every spectrum of the offensive rainbow. Though in his music, he hopes to be the champion of the disenfranchised with tracks like “Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds” and “Native American” but in true form completely butchers the essence of tolerance and understanding. The songs are funny and the sparse crowd reactions even more so. This process, however, begins to repeat itself during the film and loses its punch. Adding to the minuscule list of British music mockumentaries, Life on the Road is a bad back massage compared to Spinal Tap.
The Office was a brilliant show; it is the only British comedy to ever win a Golden Globe. It has spawned several versions in countries like France, Chile, and Israel. Its American counterpart reached ultimate success in the television world, ran for nine seasons, and spawned a generation of similarly structured sitcoms that still air to this day. David Brent’s (as well as his international doppelgangers) impossible nature was contrasted with other real relationships to ground us in the mind numbing reality of the public’s cubicle bound fate. The desperate lengths Brent takes to be loved could be endearing at times, while contrasted with various romantic relationships or deep rivalries between different characters. We the viewer go on a journey with The Office and feel as a part of their ilk and that is exactly where Life on the Road falls flat. There’s no growth. There’s no change in our perspective for David Brent or any other character. It makes one wonder where co-creator and long time writing partner of Gervais, Stephen Merchant, was for this project. Besides the The Office, the two have worked together on several other well received shows including Extras and Life’s Too Short. His absence is noticeable and awfully suspicious.
After a great majority of the film is spent on Brent debasing himself and the rest of the touring group finding any opportunity to shit on him, the film suddenly turns. All the characters begin to express pity for their front man. Foregone Conclusion’s tour is a massive failure and Brent has blown all of his savings on a fool’s errand. The way this developed should allow him to show some humility and concede to others that he is not a rock star. Instead, various characters execute an armchair psychological diagnosis to excuse his behavior and digress that Brent is an alright guy.
David Brent: Life on the Road is a bumpy bus ride down memory lane. Much of the humor will be lost on those who did not watch The Office or aren’t British enough to understand Brent’s love affair with the town of Slough. Contrary Gervais’ penchant for “I’m laughing at you, not with you” style of comedy, the tone at the end would express that its alright to be an incorrigible buffoon, as long as you keep showing up to work on time.
5.5 Painful Silences out of 10