If you’re not already a converted, hardcore fan of the original, The Office, then you almost have no purpose seeing David Brent: Life on the Road. This is nothing more than an extended special edition Christmas episode that has 45 minutes of content, yet is unnecessarily elongated to fit the structural conventions of a feature film. Having said that, as a loyal Gervais/Brent-devotee, the film delivers more than enough awkward laughs and genuinely poignant dramatic moments to justify its existence. But I will admit, I had to give it a lot of good will during the stretches where it didn’t.
Ricky Gervais returns to the role of cringe-inducing, socially-awkward, tubby antihero, David Brent, a role that catapulted his career at the beginning of the new millennium. Set 15 years after the events of the original docu-series, Brent now works as a sales rep. As clueless and as strangely affable as ever, he takes to the road to promote his new band Foregone Conclusion (as apt a title as one could have).
Brent always viewed himself as a “friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer third.” The film reacquaints the audience with the well-meaning, but delusional optimist during a last ditch effort to finally become recognised as the entertainer publicly. No longer the boss, and clearly without many people he could realistically call friend, Gervais still has a knack for building empathy for the character. The Office always worked, because beyond the absurdity and ridiculousness on screen, there was a relatability we could connect with. We all know someone who is a little like David Brent.
Depending on your tolerance levels for Gervais’ style, you may relish the opportunity to hang out with everyone’s favourite perennial loser. Or you may view this as nothing more than a Greatest Hit’s styled vanity project, that sorely misses Office co-creator Stephen Merchant’s input and direction. The Office always worked best when the ensemble bounced off one another, but with Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook nowhere to be found, the film struggles to do much else than repeat itself.
Rapper Ben Bailey Smith and Tom Basden do their best to emulate Freeman’s straight man role, but there’s only so much eye-rolling one can do. This is the Ricky Gervais show for better and worse.
David Brent is at its best when the irrepressible prat digs himself deeper and deeper into the murkiest pits of social awkwardness. There are scenes, songs and gags that will force you to watch through parted fingers, as you audibly yell at the character to just “shut up already.”
Excruciating entertainment that’s nowhere near as good or original as the source material that came before it? Sure. But like all Greatest Hits compilations, sometimes it’s nice to go back and revisit an old favourite. Thankfully, there’s some genuine pathos to make it all worth it by the end. See that heart-warming final shot for further evidence.