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Review – ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’ Is a One-Man Reunion Tour for Ricky Gervais’ Greatest Hit

By  · Published on February 11th, 2017

‘David Brent: Life on the Road’ Is a One-Man Reunion Tour for Ricky Gervais’ Greatest Hit

The boss from the ‘The Office’ explores a solo career as a wannabe rock star.

Belated sequels have been a fading proposition these past few years with only a few high profile successes standing out. An unlikely entry hits Netflix today in an attempt to join the likes of Star Wars – The Force Awakens, Creed, and Mad Max: Fury Road, and avoid falling more in line with the likes of Jason Bourne and Independence Day: Resurgence. Who would dare take this risk you ask? Why, an ex-middle manager from Slough of course.

It’s been fifteen years since the The Office (UK) wrapped and sealed the fate of Regional Manager David Brent (Ricky Gervais) as a man doomed to office work, wherever it might be. Well they say you can’t keep a good man down, and it turns out you can’t keep Brent down either. He’s currently making ends meet as a sales representative at a company where the co-workers who despise him far outnumber the few who have his back.

He knows he’s better than this though, and in an effort to achieve his lifelong dream of rock stardom he cashes in some pensions, takes time off from work, and hits the road with his band, Foregone Conclusion. Anyone familiar with Gervais’ brutally awkward style of character comedy knows it’s more than just a band name as Brent’s tour is a disaster in every sense of the word. Behind his quest for stardom though is a simple desire to be liked, and while the music career seems destined for epic failure it may not be a total loss.

It’s a bit of a bold move following-up a successful ensemble comedy series with a feature based solely around a single member of that ensemble – especially one who’s a constant source of painful, cringe-worthy setups and take-downs – but Gervais has always been a force of nature as a performer and filmmaker. He writes and directs Life on the Road in addition to starring, and it’s clear his grip on the character is as strong as it’s ever been. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on how much Brent a viewer can handle in a single sitting.

Brent is painful to watch – Gervais is still brilliant at balancing the man’s desperate need for attention with his shocking inability to read a room, but watching him dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself as the disgust and distaste grows around him can be a traumatic experience. That’s not to say it’s not funny though too. Brent’s love of puns – “the highest form of wit” – is a steady source of laughs, as are the comments from his increasingly frustrated band mates, and seeing him reach ridiculously high has its charms.

You’d think his music would be a big source of comedy, but surprisingly, while the songs are far from good their sincerity hampers most of the laughs. Even the terribly earnest “Native Americans” is more of a head-shaker than a rib-tickler.

There’s an undeniable pathos to Brent, but at a certain point the steady pattern of teasing hope only to crush it into oblivion overstays its welcome. Beats grow repetitive and predictable, and they lead to a third act that tries to switch things up a bit with varied effectiveness. It’s not that we don’t want Brent to succeed, even in some small way, but the victory we get here seems more determined by running time than narrative design.

Life on the Road runs a bit long, but Gervais’ mastery of the character is on full display throughout. Fans of The Office should find enough here to enjoy, but if you’re not already in David Brent’s corner this won’t be the experience that changes your mind.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.