David Brent: Life on the Road

Genre: Comedy
Year: 2016
Rating: MA
Runtime: 96 minutes
Main Cast: Ricky Gervais
Ben Bailey Smith
Production companies: Entertainment One
BBC Films
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais


Written by Nelson Cumming

David Brent: Life on the Road left me at a loss for words by the time it ended and not in a great way. I was left utterly befuddled by the entire movie and it’s strategic direction in both the story and the comedy. This movie has a tone that is deliberately unsound (pun intended) and the story lags on before it does a full 180 and changes direction by the end. I laughed at some of the gags, but I felt bad for laughing at them. David Brent was a mess but not an unpleasing convoluted mess.

At least the story is simple. It’s about David Brent (Ricky Gervais), a man who works in sales but leaves to reform his old band called ‘Forgone Conclusion” (You can see where he ends up here) but the members are the siblings of the original lineup. He pays everyone handsomely, which is the only reason anyone puts up with him. The problem Brent has is his performances and his lyricism: they both suck. Badly.

This entire premise is done in a mockumentary fashion that will remind you of “This is Spinal Tap” mixed with “The Office”. I am not joking. Brent’s band members are half his age and have completely different interests. Brent also has these songs that are very racist and bigoted out of ignorance but not hatred (which makes this movie at least watchable) and he paints himself as the social outcast whenever he interacts with someone.

Ricky Gervais is good… too good.

What I have just described is Rickey Gervais wet dream. He wrote, starred and directed this movie and it shows. From “The Invention of Lying” Gervais has shown that the social discomfort zone is his comfort zone. He loves it to bits. I, however, am not so sure. Gervais is great at what he has to do. He gets everyone feeling awkward about his comedy and leaves us an air of discomfort, but in this movie, he goes so extreme that it was unbearable to watch.

He has songs about African Americans being victims of colonialism (in great detail because he wants to be “factually accurate”) jokes about the disabled (including people “who eat out of a straw”) and just about any other minority you can think of. It was hit-and-miss. But when he dies on stage I cringe and when he dies on stage again I cringe harder. When I laughed, I felt bad for laughing and when he wasn’t funny I was cowering into my notebook in shame.

To sum that up, Ricky needs to fine tune his comedy. Not in the timing, dialogue or the acting but in moderation, not exaggeration. The movie is awkward so many times in this movie that I felt really uncomfortable as I was leaving.

Character Development: There is none

After the first five minutes, I liked the David Bennet character, after about fifteen, I wanted him to change because he gets annoying. That is because I thought he was naively innocent, then I realized he is just stupid and not funny. Gervais himself said in an interview that his character forms his band as a vanity project. His characters mantra is to throw money at things to solve his problems. It doesn’t look great on the screen.

So I expected “Hey at least he will hit rock bottom and he will become aware of his problems and learn from his mistakes” Nope. That does not happen. Instead, as I will explain later, his bandmates suddenly feel sorry for him and try to cheer him up. Throughout this whole film, you realize he learns nothing after screwing himself over. The execution of that was also done poorly due to…

The Pacing: So, So Bad

The movie’s pacing is terrible, to say the least. Takes a while to get going (about 20 minutes) and when it reaches a point, it stays there for 60 minutes before the story suddenly flips in the last 15 minutes. This is the basic structure that I dislike in comedies. It happened in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Zoolander 2. It’s a structure that’s predictable, and uneven.

David Brent: Life on the Road is a movie where everyone hates him but then people love him instantly with no reason as to the change in attitude. The only reason this happens is to try and get audience members to leave happy whereas when you spot it, it feels so flippantly placed

Overall I will admit, there are laughs in this movie, but the cost of uneven pacing and cringeworthy, awkward moments exceeded the enjoyment. Ultimately I would have to say I didn’t like it but the gags do achieve the desired audience reaction, it’s just not the reaction I desired *3/4.


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