Friday, 9 September 2016

David Brent: Life on the Road

Ricky Gervais, 2016

Life is a boring burden. Shouldering it is relieved only occasionally and fleetingly by a moment of meaning. You can't create these moments for yourself; they arrive only by chance or through others' acts of mercy.

This vision of existence depicted in Life on the Road doesn't differ much from the vision in The Office. But now that David Brent is a decade adrift from the social structure of Wernham Hogg, he can no longer rely on his colleagues' occasional sympathetic participation in these life-affirming encounters.

Unfortunately this means no more Tim Canterbury, one of few characters with insight in The Office, whose functions included interpreting events for the viewer in the show's characteristic head-shot monologues. Instead Brent has to supply the philosophy himself. That would be fine if he hadn't also descended further into the depths of ham-fisted cluelessness: the film sees him renting session musicians to join him on a 'tour' of various jam nights and crap pub gigs in and around Slough, all the while waffling about bagging a major label contract. So when he shifts into Werner Herzog mode, it's a bit jarring. As are the occasional moments that deliberately reference popular jokes from the TV series. Life on the Road is still a mock-doc, and anything that pulls the viewer out of that is a moment of failure.

Having said all that, Life on the Road does have some great jokes, scenes of redemption, and an open ending that suggests that Brent might finally make peace with his place in the world and begin to build a happier life around it.

But that's also a problem, for this prospect seems hollow when you recall the structurally similar epiphanies and possibilites at the end of The Office's Christmas episodes. They really should had been the end of the David Brent story. This film, well-made, poignant and enjoyable as it is, sullies the ending of the TV series, presenting a bleaker vision of Brent's future. It may be capturing the zeitgeist, but it left me with a heavy heart.