15 years ago, The Office launched on BBC Two and now David Brent is back… only this time he’s on the big screen and I’ve been lucky enough to watch Life On The Road ahead of its release.
The Office was a mockumentary which disrupted the comedy landscape and whose influence can still be seen today in comedies such as People Just Do Nothing on BBC Three, W1A on BBC Two and the recently launched Borderline on Channel 5.
Despite the series ending in 2003 after two series and two Christmas specials, the nation’s love affair with the series has never really ended and whilst Ricky Gervais has always said that he didn’t want to make any more episodes of The Office, there was one character he just couldn’t shake off… David Brent.
In 2007 he brought Brent back as he performed Free Love Freeway at the Concert for Diana and in 2011 he even popped up in an episode of The US Office. In 2013 he returned once again for a Comic Relief sketch called The Office Revisited which spawned the ‘hit’ Equality Street with Doc Brown and also that year he launched his very own YouTube channel, Learn Guitar with David Brent.
In August 2014 it was announced that after much speculation, there was going to be a David Brent movie, and now two years on since that announcement David Brent: Life On The Road is about to launch in cinemas nationwide and will launch internationally on Netflix in February 2017.
Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of the film, a couple of weeks before it’s released. The film picks up 12 years on from the end of The Office and David Brent is now a travelling salesman with Lavichem, a cleaning and ladies’ personal hygiene products company.
As David himself says at the start of the film, the BBC documentary crew wanted to “continue the Brent saga” so it makes complete sense that the film exists.
If you’re expecting a big screen version of The Office, then this isn’t it and if you’re expecting cameos from Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis or any other members of the cast then you’ll be very disappointed, as there aren’t any.
Of course there are still nods to the series throughout; the instrumental for Handbags & Gladrags, the theme song to The Office plays twice, Wernham Hogg and Slough are mentioned a few times and the fact that he’s “David Brent from The Office” is something which is spoken about a lot.
It’s kept the mockumentary style we all know and love and whilst Brent is now working in a new office, with new workmates who on the whole dislike him, but the film isn’t about that, it’s about David Brent going on tour.
That’s right. Not one to give up on his dream of rock stardom, Brent cashes in his pension, takes unpaid leave from work and embarks on a self-financed UK tour with his band, Foregone Conclusion. I say UK tour, most of the locations are only a couple of miles away from his house, it’s basically a tour of Berkshire.
The group is made up of session musicians who are just in it for the money, Brent pays their wages, their accommodation, the tour bus (which he’s not allowed on) and they don’t even have the decency to join him for a post-gig drink, unless being paid £25 a hour that is.
Joining them on tour is talented rapper Dom, played by Ben Bailey Smith/Doc Brown from Equality Street fame who is back in an attempt for Brent to gain some street cred, although spoiler alert… it doesn’t work.
If you’re easily offended, not a fan of Ricky Gervais or didn’t like The Office very much, then this film probably isn’t for you.
Brent’s always been one not to mince his words and whether it’s in a song or in a hotel corridor (there’s a very uncomfortable scene where the N-word is used several times), the film manages to offend more or less everyone; fat people, disabled people, Native Americans, black people, women, dwarves… and I could go on.
But Brent gets what he deserves as only a handful of people turn up to his gigs and his band do everything they can to disassociate themselves with him. Not to mention a visit from a label scout which doesn’t end the way that he’d hoped.
All that being said, by the end of the movie I found myself sympathising with Brent, and whilst Ricky’s subsequent work always had moving moments, this was something I never really felt during The Office and didn’t expect to feel during Life On The Road. Not only did I warm to Brent as a person, but I felt sorry for him and began to understand where he’s coming from and why he says the things he does.
It’s this emotion which made Life On The Road feel like the end of the David Brent chapter. Perhaps this is Gervais’ way of saying goodbye to his beloved character, and in true David Brent fashion, he’s milking this film for all it’s worth; releasing an album, a songbook and playing to a sell-out crowd at the Hammersmith Apollo for two nights in September.
So if this really is the end, is it a fitting end? Absolutely. As a huge fan of Ricky Gervais, The Office and David Brent I must admit I was worried. Historically, big screen versions of sitcoms, however close to the original, very rarely hit the mark but in my opinion Life On The Road does and is a real treat for the fans. A treat which I enjoyed immensely.
When the jokes are good, they’re superb and even when they’re not, they’re cringey but when you’re dealing with David Brent, isn’t that sort of the point? Yes I had my head in my hands at some of the jokes and I took a sharp intake of breath when the N-word was mentioned not once, not twice, but a handful of times, but isn’t that what comedy is all about? Isn’t it one of the rare genres which allows creatives to push things as far as they can?
If Gervais hadn’t tried to ruffle a few feathers we’d all be criticising him for playing it safe, so it was the right approach, although perhaps less references to the N-word next time.
It’s clear in the script and his performance that Gervais has a lot of love and admiration for David Brent and he’s really put his all into Life On The Road. He doesn’t have to do this, for him this isn’t about selling out. This isn’t about returning to a character/series that was so well loved because everything else in between failed.
Far from it, Extras and Derek have been incredibly popular and have even led to him hosting the Golden Globes so it’s nice that he’s never forgotten the character which made him a household name.
David Brent: Life On The Road opens in cinemas Friday 19th August