Like the inevitability of finding a stapler stuck in jelly “No don’t take it out! Eat around it, there’s starving children” Ricky Gervais’s most endearing character has returned 15 years after The Office first aired and nearly 13 years after David Brent first rode off into the sunset. Now he’s been brought back as a subject of his own documentary, to the surprise of a lot people given that on several occasions Gervais said that Brent would never return and that there would never be an Office movie and you could understand his reluctance, after all, the last episode of The Office is considered one of the best endings to a British comedy series ever.
So the question is, how do you improve on perfection?
The short answer is; you can’t. You really can’t.
That being said, they certainly gave it a shot regardless. With Gervais reintroducing Brent with typical flair in his new job as a salesman for a cleaning production company. But of course, he has those big dreams. He plans to cash in a massive amount of his retirement fund to form his own rock band and head out on a three week tour. And, because it worked so well the first time he invited a documentary crew along with it.
The earlier scenes especially those involving him interacting with the band – which include rapper Dom Johnson (Doc Brown) reprising his role from Gervais’s 2013 Comic Relief sketch – are hugely funny in that typical cringe-worthy awkwardness Gervais is partial to. The character of Brent carries on, played perfectly like it’s 2002 all over again. It’s like Gervais never stopped playing him, he just fits into the mannerisms so perfectly. The nervous glance at the camera, the breathy uncomfortable laugh. It all fits perfectly into place. If anything he’s only become more desperate and pathetic and he pays a bunch of younger men to spend time with him.
But once we come to the end of the first act and the band starts playing the film starts to suffer. The jokes seem very hit and miss while at the same time telegraphed. Unless of course, you’re a fan of fat jokes, and at times it feels like a charity sketch show that struggles to fill it’s 98 minutes and it’s quite simply playing for time. And while the ending of it is well intentioned, it just comes off as over-sentimental and far too sugary sweet for an Office like movie and therefore feels like an melodramatic ending suited for the tone of Derek than anything else.
Overall while it does have enjoyable moments it fails to capture the same kind of magic of the TV series and it’s hard to believe that the project wouldn’t have been better if Stephan Merchant could have been involved.
David Brent: Life On The Road is on general release now