Thirteen years on from The Office’s finale, David Brent returns in a feature-length film, David Brent: Life on the Road. The set up for Brent’s big-screen debut is that our hapless hero has decided to use his pension to fund a tour for his band, Foregone Conclusion.
Where we find Brent in Life on the Road has some parallels with where Gervais himself is at this point in his career. In a way, this is also Gervais’s last chance to return to the mainstream. Having not starred in a major film or acclaimed TV show in many years, the fact that Gervais has decided to bring back Brent whiffs somewhat of desperation.
The finale of Gervais’s last show, Derek, was watched by less than a million people. He is by far the most popular host of the Golden Globes – but who wants that dubious honour? Gervais was once proud to say that he ended The Office after just 14 episodes, and refused to milk it for all it was worth. Now he’s cashing in on his creation in an attempt to save his career.
But this is no Office reunion. There’s no Tim, no Dawn, no Gareth, and, perhaps most importantly, no Stephen Merchant to co-write and direct. There’s also none of the sort of celebrity cameos we saw in Extras or Life’s Too Short. In a similar vein to The Office Christmas special, Life on the Road focuses on Brent’s loneliness, his life outside of work and his attempts to exploit the meagre fame, or infamy, he earned through that ‘documentary’ called The Office. The conceit is that Life on the Road is a follow-up documentary about him, which he uses as an opportunity to get the band back together and have one last shot at a record deal.
The film maintains the awkward humour of The Office, but is devoid of the acute observations that made the show so relatable. The film starts in another office, a company Brent now works for, where just about every character is a carbon copy of the characters from the series. You could say that the original characters were just perfect office archetypes – that Gervais couldn’t help but replicate them. But, considering they’re barely onscreen here for more than a few minutes, they look and feel like cheap rip-offs.