Life On The Road - This Movie Wants To Rock. It Does
Dir: Ricky Gervais
Starring Ricky Gervais, His Ego, His Alter- Ego, Ben Bailey Smith
So here’s what great about the new David Brent movie. (Which, BTW, is just called ‘Life On The Road’ – the only title that appears on its opening and end titles.) It’s so much more a tragedy than it is a comedy. And it’s all the better for it. Fact!
This is Ricky Gervais resurrecting his most notable character, but taking him somewhere else. Gone is the ensemble of The Office (wisely) although the trappings of said environment still remain at the beginning and end of the movie. This is David Brent desperately trying to turn his back on that milieu in a way that is misguided, yes, but heartfelt and sincere in all other ways. This is on the road tampon rep Brent trying to become on the road rock star Brent. And it’s about dreams unfulfilled as much as it about the excruciating humour of embarrassment that Gervais has popularised. There are many laugh out loud moments as you’d expect, and some of the songs are priceless – Native American and Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disableds being cringe-tastic standouts.
But if all Gervais was interested in here was trading on past glories, this film would have been a mistake.
Instead, he seeks to peel away the layers of his most pertinent alter-ego. And in doing so, he finds the humanity of both Brent and the world around him. This is ultimately a genuinely moving movie about a lost man, lying to work out his place in the world in order to make that a better place. It’s almost tragically heroic in its own Berkshire-based kind of way.
Full marks to Gervais as director as well who fully knows where he wants go here – focusing on Brent at the bar as Bailey Smith has his moment is brilliantly handled, and, once again, incredibly sad. (He also gets a really winning performance out of Bailey Smith as his one and only black friend – or indeed, his only one and only friend.)
As to Gervais’ own performance – often an underrated performer (he’s not playing himself, get over it) - here he seriously overplays the nervous Brent giggle at first, to the point of irritation (probably intentional.) But, overall, he delivers a multi-layered performance that knows how to subtly tug at heart strings rather than pull them too far.
As his work on The Office Christmas Specials proved years back, Gervais the writer and filmmaker knows how to find redemption in his characters. And if the ending here seems designed to please, it is 100% correct in doing so. Brent is often just seen as a figure of fun, but he has always been so much more than that.
So whilst something like Ab Fab is content to throw everything at the overly familiar wall and hope something sticks (not enough did), Gervais takes another walk down Brent Alley and brings us something more than before, something darker and closer to tragedy. But something oh so much more rewarding. Fact!
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