Spinal Tap meets The Office
A documentary crew revisits Britain’s most socially inept boss. This time, paper merchant manager turned toiletries sales rep (David Brent) is following his lifelong dream of becoming a rock star. Paying out £20,000 for a few dead gigs in the Slough area with a band that doesn’t like you should do it.
Bar a few exceptions that I just couldn’t resist, I purposefully tried not to read many reactions and reviews to Life On The Road. I’m a huge fan of Ricky Gervais and a self confessed The Office maniac. As soon as I heard about the upcoming film, I wondered if being a big fan of the original series would make me love the movie or hate the movie. I definitely wouldn’t be the first person to say that The Office was perfect as it ended, leaving us with a beautifully rounded finale. It felt special in its ‘unspecialness’ with enough unanswered questions and enough raw humanity. As sitcoms do, it made normality hilarious. Would the film be able to achieve the same thing?
It’s my general opinion that sitcom movies don’t work as well as the sitcom itself because the movies drag and drop our normal, relate-able characters into special situations, and they just don’t seem to fit. I thought that David Brent going on tour with a band and trying to become a rock star was a bit too much of a far cry from the office settings we’re used to. But… it actually worked. I thought the film was hilarious and awkward enough to bring back all those feelings I have about Brent and The Office.
His new environment, the Lavichem office, is sprinkled with a few fun characters that echo the personalities of the employees of Wernham Hogg. Sure, we don’t get to know the characters as well as we did in Wernham Hogg, and that leaves something lacking, but the movie’s all about Brent after all. They bring enough to the narrative for us to develop feelings about Brent, some new feelings and some that just come flooding back. When Brent first leaves the Lavichem office to start his “tour”, I immediately really wanted him to come back to the office. I was comfortable with him there. I didn’t want him to start singing and stuff. But I soon felt comfortable again when the swanky tour bus (that he paid out of his arse for) showed up, the rest of the band got on, leaving no room for Brent as he tagged behind in the car. 70mph TOPS.
The many moments when Brent is on stage giving bone-shatteringly uncomfortable speeches and singing are only just short enough for us to get the gist without becoming repetitive, and the moments in between are nothing short of perfect. Like in The Office, it’s a wonderfully hilarious entourage of those awkward glances to the camera, the smug pursing of the lips, the weird, nervous laugh (which seems to have developed into a more high pitched one – not sure about that), and the familiarity of that group of embarrassed onlookers shaking their heads. It’s a concoction that will most definitely keep you laughing throughout, if Gervais’s humour is your thing.
Obviously Ricky Gervais steals the show. When he’s David Brent he’s in his element. It’s enjoyable to watch because it’s evident he knows the character so well, and really cares about him. Doc Brown is fantastic as Dom Johnson (Brent’s involuntary ‘partner in crime’). It’s very believable when he executes emotions such as embarassment or awkwardness, and at the same time it’s subtly clear he feels compassion towards him. I just loved Jo Hartley’s performance as the quietly admiring colleague, too.
I will be watching this again (and again, probably). But have we been exposed to a side of Brent that is too vulnerable and too aware of what other people think of him? Seeing the soft side of him and a side that battles with mental health and depression brings us closer to him as an endearing human. But in The Office, Brent appeared to be unaware of how much people’s perception differed to the perception he has of himself. In the movie, on many occasions Brent is aware and even voicing his frustrations about not being liked and not being one of the lads, but I personally preferred that in smaller, subtle doses.
Leaving more to the imagination and the opinion of the viewers was the true magic of The Office.