David Brent: Life on the Road (Allen)

(Originally posted 25th August 2016)
(minor spoilers)

There were concerns about this film as a concept, no doubt about that. Had too much time passed? Would Brent work as a stand alone character? Can Gervais write this stuff on his own? But all that quickly disappears when you sit down to watch because this film works very well and gives you pretty much everything you want as an Office fan. I'd forgotten just how much of a frustrated pop star Gervais is, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how many original songs were included, carefully formulated to be amusingly bad without being self-consciously funny.

Sure, it's not perfect. The happy ending feels rushed and it would have been nice if some of the supporting characters were a bit more fleshed out. I would also have preferred it to make more of the documentary nature and use the limitations that come with that to its advantage (like The Office) instead of just shooting it handheld and having people talk to camera and then say it's documentary style (like the US Office).

But what matters most is that it's funny. It's very funny from beginning to end. That is its raison d'etre and it achieves it comfortably. Gervais is so comfortable in his character that it's hard to believe it's taken him this long to try and do something substantial with him.

As for the plot, well, it gets the job done. Essentially it is playing out the ultimate 21st Century tragedy; a man over forty who still has hope. It is this hope that differentiates Brent from his salesman colleagues – whereas they have blindly accepted their lives of dead end drudgery, Brent still aspires to something different, something creative and passionate. This is where we empathise with him, it's where we aspire to be like him. However, the pathos of the story comes from realising that it's not about becoming a famous or respected singer, it's just about being liked. It's about being wanted.

This is why the slightly slipshod ending of “all you need is love” just about worked. I think I've made it pretty clear by now how I feel about the “love conquers all” mentality but I'm willing to let it go here because it demonstrates that Brent as a musical failure doesn't matter as long as somebody likes him. The more obvious satisfying ending would have been for him to find a place in the music industry – for him to accept his own limitations as a performer but use his actual skills towards working in management. It even looked like we were heading this way when we see the burgeoning success of his protege Dom Johnson. But perhaps that would have been too easy. Brent is a tragic figure after all and he must remain in his cage to represent all of us who find ourselves with dreams that will only ever be dreams and real lives that will bring us nothing but misery.

Coming soon, David Brent 2: Eurovision.

Probably my favourite film so far this year, 9/10.

 

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