As soon as I saw that the David Brent movie was coming to Netflix, I knew we had to review it. My son and I have been fans of The Office for years so the prospect of discussing this film was never in question despite the concerns a spin-off brought up. How would David Brent fare as a protagonist without his familiar and counter balancing Wernham Hogg co-workers? And beyond missing old characters, would an all-Brent-all-the-time project be a bit much to bear? So it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that we set about watching and contemplating all the various aspects David Brent: Life on the Road.
When we meet up with David, twelve years have passed since the Christmas specials. Now working as a rep selling cleaning and feminine hygiene products, Brent is no longer in charge but rather a worker bee mocked and scorned by a significant percentage of his colleagues. Perhaps this is why David has held so tightly to his dream of becoming a rock star.
Brent enlists a group of opportunistic session musicians and a skeptical sound engineer for the resurrection of his old band, Forgone Conclusion. So with the old Office documentary crew in tow, they embark upon a foolishly expensive and pointless regional tour of pubs, colleges and battle of the band contests that everyone but David can see is an unmitigated disaster.
Here are some the of the thoughts Ross and I had about Gervais’ newest David Brent adventure.
Favorite new character
Mum: I was looking for the person who would be stepping into the shoes of my favorite character from The Office, Tim Canterbury. At first I thought David’s talented but underutilized rapper friend Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith) was going to take on that role of the normal guy who is the voice of reason when Brent starts spiraling out of control.
But in the end it was sound engineer Dan Harvey played by Tom Basden who took David aside and set him straight on his foolhardy spending and the insecurity behind it. He also did a kind thing for Brent, against his better judgement, which is what Tim would have done for sure.
Ross: My fave new character was Karen, the receptionist (Mandeep Dhillon), who says David brightens her day and that, though many others in the office don’t, she finds him funny. I especially liked when she stood up for David’s friend Nigel (Tom Bennett) against the office bully. Nigel provided for Brent what Mackenzie Crook as Gareth Keenan never could. He was a co-worker (on equal footing) that saw Brent as a friend of similar spirit, and not someone who, as the milk monitor, had to suck up to whoever would show him favor because of the negativity that came with being the boss’ dog. David Brent had to become what he was always good at (a salesman) in order to realize there are friends out there for everyone, and they will like you for who you are. (Props to Ben Bailey Smith as Dom for that as well).
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment
Mum: One of the most awkward situations in the film is just the fact that a man my age is trying to impress and pal around people who are closer to my son’s age. That rarely works, unless you’re a pop icon. It’s embarrassing that his band mates blank him so often and, though it visibly affects him, he doesn’t get it. In fact, it’s frustrating that in all this time David still hasn’t learned that he should be himself and not try so hard to make people like him. It always backfires anyway.
That being said, the scene where David shoots a woman in the face with a t-shirt gun is pretty mortifying and therefore classic Brent.
Ross: Any sexual reference David makes, particularly at the beginning about his rock n roll sex song.
I can’t begin to imagine the amount of flak that David had to take over the 12 years between documentaries over his personality and behavior. In what he thought may be a portal to stardom or notoriety, office manager Brent took a beating to his ego and his overall being as a human. Like many TV series and movies that I enjoy, it’s the perceived despicable characters at their truest moments of vulnerability that make the entire journey worthwhile.
So, in that vein, David’s visit to his psychiatrist before his tour is such a telling scene in his personality that my heart reached out to him in a moment where he felt everything he did was wrong, but that’s the art of being human, living by trial and error. Sometimes, many errors at that.
Most Touching Moment
Mum: I used to be under the impression that in The Office and other Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant projects, Merchant must be the compassionate one, the writer who found humanity in the most flawed of characters. Then Gervais went solo and made Derek. It was then I discovered he was the softy of the pair.
Therefore, I knew to expect moments of human kindness from Life on the Road. Besides Dan paying for the snow which I referenced earlier, I think Pauline (Jo Hartley) from accounts embodies that spirit as well. When she talks about how reviving the documentary is bad for David, Pauline truly grasps the situation and worries for his well-being.
Gervais obviously wants to hit home the point that since the original Office documentary, the world is meaner, more selfish. We see this demonstrated in most of the people David encounters on tour from a taunting radio DJ to the mercenary PR representative David hires to the woman he picks up at the ATM looking for a free room and a mini-bar feast on him. Pauline’s concern is warranted and poignant considering David has hardly ever taken notice of her.
Ross: I’m going to have to echo everything my mom said in this part. A meaner world full of harsher, more anonymous social media is what has been created. Walls are built up by others before anyone can show how they truly are, leading to more mixed signals, brunt, up-front shutdowns, and overall distrust. Ricky Gervais puts a mirror up to a society that doesn’t even want to glance, and that shines through in every interaction David Brent has on camera with everyone in the documentary. Pauline and Nigel are the two shining examples in a world of negativity that everyone has a chance.
Mum: I found the music and musicianship surprisingly good. Of course all the lyrics were written for comic effect to show us how seriously David takes his songwriting and how badly he misreads the tone of issues featured in his music. I found ‘Slough’ to be interesting because unlike most of the other songs which were Brent’s obvious attempt at hard-drinking rock and roll or socially conscious anthems, this one was just a love song, a declaration of loyalty to an oft maligned place as our hometowns so frequently are. It also nods to The Office as “Europe’s biggest trading estate.”
Ross: The music, as far as Foregone Conclusion originals, was like a parody comedy troupe with no boundaries. So overall I laughed the hardest at the ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ song.
Does it stand up to The Office?
Mum: No, because it lacks the strong ensemble from the TV series and I doubt that was Ricky Gervais’ ambition in the first place.
However, I do think it’s worth watching if you are interested in encountering an older, more fragile but foolishly optimistic Brent. One can only hope he gives up on fame as a life goal and listens instead to those who genuinely care about him.
Ross: Life on the Road is a poetic ending to a character that has become a dying star heading towards a black hole. But, despite it all, every time I see Ricky Gervais on camera, I leave feeling happy and hopeful that whatever comes next will be okay. 4/5 for movie fans, The Office fans may find it more of a down the middle 2.5/5. Worth showing to friends and family who love cringe-worthy humor with a pointedly deserved message.