Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: David Brent - Life On The Road

David Brent: Life On The Road
Cert: 15 / 96 mins / Dir. Ricky Gervais / Trailer

8And lo, did the distributors spake, "In ye Summer-time, specifically in ye monthe of Auguste, just after ye A-Level resultes are borne forth, ye shall release a filme which hath been made from a thing off ye tellye."
9 "Whether it doth be Ye Lemonne, Ye Partridge, Ye Inbetweeneres or even ye blaggard Whitehall Himselfe, thou shalt adapt the small screen to the large. For, 'tis the formula."
10 "And so it shall be that ye kiddes who scoreth badly in their exams shalt want to go out, and taketh their mind off despaire with laughter. Verily, those kiddes who passeth with flying colours shalt want to celebrate with goode feeling and merriment." Thus, the cinema shalt be all thinges to all children, the melting-pot and the force which bringeth together. And they shalt remember it fondly and with greate kindness.

~ The Book Of Film, Chapter 6, v8-10

Okay, various IRL events and time-management issues mean I've been procrastinating over this one for a week (with the exception of the pre-written introduction, above) and have now lost all momentum*1. These are my thoughts in brief on David Brent: Life On The Road, in no particular order of preference or severity…

Like most of these things, this isn't really a film. More a TV special which has been strung out to a length that would be deemed acceptable for a cinema release.

The mockumentary format is tried and tested, and Ricky Gervais inhabits his most famous creation with unique and practiced ease. But there's the feeling that all this is around ten years too late (the Office Christmas Specials, a coda to the two full TV series, aired in 2003). Although he's been continuing sporadically to expand the Brent canon in the meanwhile, the comedy landscape has changed a lot. While the original series is still held as a high watermark of TV comedy, it's done so in a historical context; ie you wouldn't get away with exactly the same format in 2016. And guess what…

Life On The Road is always very watchable but never really felt like something i could laugh at, largely because by guffawing I was either going along with the awful jokes and mistakes Brent makes, or mocking the misguided fool making them. It feels like 'punching down', either way. In Gervais' directorial hands, the lead character's failures become an unironic swan-song that's more uncomfortable than amusing.

Ultimately, the film's not that funny. The faux-pas*2 and awkward silences are there in abundance, but what made The Office so great was the reactions of every other character to Brent's excesses. Life On The Road has to introduce everyone other than Brent very rapidly, so we're never fully seeing events from their point of view. And apart from anything else, the audience wasn't rooting for Brent in The Office, they were rooting for Tim and Dawn. The closest this film has to their detached exasperation is Ben Bailey Smith's rapper/sidekick, Dom, who is underused as a comic foil at best.

The closest comparison I could make in terms of tone, era and comic-persona would be Alan Partridge. And while it's funny watching Partridge fail because he's a terrible person reacting in exaggerated comedy situations, Brent is just a terrible person in an everyday one. David Brent has become a real version of a real thing (and that's a compliment to the acting and the writing, if anything). If I want to see people trying their hardest to politely ignore racist comments? It's 2016, I don't need to go the cinema, that shit's everywhere

Those awkward silences were probably exacerbated by an audience of around 20 people scattered over a 270-seat auditorium. The laugh-gaps in any movie feel more hollow in that situation. Maybe this would have worked better in a later (ie more populated) screening? Then again, the beauty of the TV series was that it was immersive even if you watched it alone.

The script even throws a few 'oh, it's not as good as the TV series' jibes in its own direction, as if pointing out the obvious somehow makes it less true.

On an even more nit-picky level, there are far too many shot-angles for this to pose as an actual documentary (unless the standard docu-crew comprises four camera operators, these days?).

By the time the closing credits come round, the lead character has done nothing to earn the social and moral awards given to him, nor the bittersweet ending which accompanies them, other than perhaps 'not giving up', which wasn't really an option open to him anyway. It has its moments, certainly, but I think the biggest problem with Life On The Road is that the writer, director and headlining performer are all the same person. Restraint is everything in comedy, and that's in ironically short supply here. Plus, you can't build up a nostalgic glow for someone who's meant to be a dick in the first place…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, The Office I suppose.
Although if you use that as your benchmark, you may come away emptyhanded

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No, it's not a film.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
With the best will in the world, no.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Given that the director essentially is the cast and what that person's back-catalogue consists of, no.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, this movie stars Ricky Gervais (and won't let you forget it), who's worked on several projects over the years with Warwick 'Wicket' Davis.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 All week it's been 'and after I've done that I'll type up my Brent-review'. Don't even get me started on the words I haven't written for Swallows and Amazons…

*2 What's the plural of 'faux-pas'..?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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