It’s been over twelve years since David Brent, regional manager at a Slough based paper merchants, was made redundant. It’s been over twelve years since Dawn walked back into the Christmas party and it’s been over twelve years since Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant brought our time spent watching the inner workings of the employees at Wernham Hogg to a satisfying close. Now we are reunited with Brent in a follow up, feature length mockumentary as he continues to chase fame, this time as the lead singer of a rock band. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Brent since 2003 – he’s popped up on the occasional, rather limp comic relief special. I must stress at this point that I am a dedicated fan of The Office. I’ve revisited old episodes countless times, reliving the characters’ emotional, subtle journeys again and again. I believe it to be utterly perfect. I had seen enough preview footage of David Brent: Life on the Road to know it was going to lack the authenticity of the original product – now shiny and a tad soulless up on the big screen. The result is not abysmal but certainly somewhat empty. Brent is as awkward and pathetic as you’d expect but now he dances on a stage, surrounded by embarrassed musicians rather than corporate colleagues. The film’s weakest moments are when Brent is gigging, which, sadly, is the majority of the time. These scenes are Gervais’ weak homage to This is Spinal Tap and lack the originality and detailed hilarity of their inspiration. David Brent: Life on the Road is proof that there was more than cringe-worthy comedy at the heart of The Office. Brent alone proves to be too much to stomach in one intense sitting and reminds us of the importance of the equally complex characters that surrounded him in the TV series.
Every joke found in the film previously appeared somewhere in the original series and here are delivered lazily and repeatedly. At times ever Brent himself acts out of character. What used to make Brent so amusing was his blatant concern with appearing politically correct, something that would ironically lead to uncomfortable and offensive situations. Here, Brent is ignorant and almost malicious at times – something I found confusing and disheartening. In Brent’s return, the cameras don’t shake and the cuts are much more frequent. David Brent: Life on the Road doesn’t feel like a mockumentary thanks to the invisible editing style. This loss of realism impacts on the realism of the characters themselves. In typical style, Gervais builds towards a heartfelt ending. Having spent over an hour of the film following the tour, the film struggles to provoke enough emotion in its rushed ending. Gervais shines in these vulnerable moments but here both the characters and the relationships aren’t developed enough to achieve the desired effect. Almost every scene feels staged and this limits just how funny one can find it all. It’s a film full of soft chuckles; a travesty considering that every episode makes me guffaw on each return. There are no old faces to be seen and the new faces are forced and far too scripted. Tom Bennett is a joyful presence, bringing the charm we first saw in Phone Shop to a role that somewhat replaces Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth. Gervais has justified not returning to Wernham Hogg, claiming it would be too sad. This sums it all up. The beauty of The Office was always the sadness that lay at its heart – without that, it’s nothing but old jokes and worn out ideas.
Thank you for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.