David Brent: Life on the Road full movie review - Cringe-inducing, well-made and funny but never truly exceptional and generally unmemorable.
'David Brent: Life On The Road' marks Ricky Gervais' return to his beloved cringe-inducing creation seen in the 'mockumentary' entitled 'The Office'.
This time around, David Brent is finally moving forward with his musical career; the film is set up as if a documentary crew were once again following him as he decides to go on tour with his band 'Forgone Conclusion Mark 2'. I've never seen the television series, and Gervais isn't a comedian who immediately appeals to me; in the past, I've found some of his appearances to be quite annoying and occasionally arrogant. I'm glad to say that, here, none of that was an issue. I really enjoyed my time with 'Life On The Road', finding it funny yet also surprisingly poignant and heart-felt at times. Its central message is a positive one and, when it is brought to the forefront, it isn't as cynical as the rest of the feature or Gervais' trademark bleak humour.
The picture actually does have a cohesive plot which, whilst unstructured and sometimes repetitive, doesn't feel stretched to meet the longer run-time. Having said that, there isn't any real reason for it to be a theatrical release: sure, it's well executed but it does come across as an extended television special ? there's no reason to see it up on the big screen. The flick plays it fast and loose in terms of a traditional framework, but it's mostly successful as the little moments add up to an emotional climax as opposed to a necessarily narrative one. The film doesn't really dwell on setting up its title character, but I still managed to get a grasp on what they were going for rather quickly. It doesn't really matter that I didn't watch the show, as all of Brent's wishes and traits are made apparent within the first ten minutes. His most prominent feature is the uncanny ability to make any situation awkward, and to continue making his situation worse by simply refusing to stop talking. For the majority of the piece, we're laughing at him rather than with him. A lot of the scenes are genuinely cringe- inducing and they go on for an agonisingly long time, allowing us to feel just as uncomfortable as the people on screen. You often want Brent to just shut up, not because he isn't funny but because you feel bad for the guy. By the end, I truly felt sorry for the character as most of the time he clearly means well and doesn't cause offence on purpose. This emotional core surprised me, as I felt more connected to the character than expected, and it can actually be rather sad. The final segment of the movie shows Brent's more human side, which paves the way for some genuine attachment and a shows off a little bit of earnest profundity. It isn't too sappy however, and the jokes do come at a relatively fast pace. The picture is very funny at times, remaining mainly chuckle worthy for its run-time, but some of the jokes don't hit ? especially some of the more mean-spirited ones. I enjoyed watching it throughout and none of it offended me, as the character never means to cause harm. The movie was well-made technically, too. It is directed by Gervais, and he understands the documentary style. The interviews to camera and fly-on-the-wall segments work well, and he frequently utilised cuts to emphasise or create jokes. Sometimes, the documentary aesthetic falls away though a little - as some angles would expose the crew and there is a prominent drop in the amount of interviews.
Gervais is great in the lead role, often coming across as an exaggerated extension of himself, and he displays good range when he has to. There are moments when his humanity shows and he accurately depicts someone trying to hold back raw emotion. He generally succeeds at making the character seem real and relatable, allowing the audience to feel an attachment even when his intentions are hilariously misguided. His little looks to camera, oddly embellished laugh and perfect timing all add up to a humorous screen presence; his presumed improvisation skills work wonders too, extending scenes awkwardly for minutes at a time. The other characters don't really have all that much to do, they basically just serve as surrogates for the audience as they too wince in discomfort as Brent digs himself further into his own little hole, but they all feel like real people and portray their characters well. Comedian Ben Bailey Smith, also known as 'Doc Brown', is fantastic here and really shows off his underused acting chops. An essential part of this movie occurs on-stage when the band are performing Brent's songs. Gervais has worked hard to release a full album in character. The music is actually well composed and performed, with a more than capable band and a good lead singer ? Gervais himself. Many people may not know that he started out making music, but the experience is evident; he's a good singer. A lot of the songs have catchy tunes, too, and a few were stuck in my head a while after leaving the cinema. The joke, then, isn't that the music itself is bad but that the lyrics are as ill-advised and graceless as Brent himself. He is definitely not politically-correct, singing about everything from the Native Americans to the disabled, though he doesn't know that he is perhaps causing offence. The time spent on stage does become a little repetitive, but its Brent that makes them watchable as the questionable lyrics and his bumbling demeanour make for some true laughs.
Overall, 'Life On The Road' was a funny ? at times, hilarious ? feature with a surprising emotional core and cohesive style; sometimes, the aesthetic falls away a little and the story can be unfocused though. I enjoyed the film, but it was rather unmemorable and never truly exceptional: 7/10