Director: Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais can do no wrong. (I’m well aware when making that comment, that for many, he can do no right, since he polarises opinion to the extent there’s hardly anyone who says; ‘he’s okay, I suppose.’)
Where Ricky is supreme however is among the movers and shakers, the big noises in Hollywood and London; not only the stars (and Keith Chegwin) apparently delighted to be humiliated in ‘Extras’, but producers and business corporations, investors prepared to back up Gervais’s various comedy productions with hard cash, despite the fact that not everything RG’s made has hit pay dirt.
The biggest reason for this, is The Office’, his breakthrough piece, the magnificently conceived, observed and acted series which gave the world David Brent, chilled-out entertainer, friend as well as boss, self-obsessed philosopher, twat. On the back of Brent’s status as genuine comedy icon, Gervais has been given what looks like a blank cheque – and quite possibly a blank sheet of paper – to resurrect the Slough dilettante, who continues to follow his self-stated philosophy of ‘live fast, die old’.
Since last seen Brent has suffered a nervous breakdown, been on prozac, undergone a weight gain and – subsequent loss – and is now working as a tampon rep, complete with chainstore suit, hatchback car and rabbit warren like office base. No longer the boss, he’s now 55 and after cashing in some pensions – which yielded ‘almost as much as I put in’, has self-funded a 2 week tour with the reformed Foregone Conclusion, a bunch of young session musicians who hate him so much they won’t let him share the tour bus, have a drink after the gig with him or at one point, even talk to him.
As oblivious to painful reality as ever – more so if anything, Brent is older but he’s also stupider. As the camera follows him into the eye of the entirely expected disaster – empty gigs, derisive punters and an appearance at a University ‘Shitenite’ piss-up, during which someone actually shouts – ‘Gerroff, Grandad!’, you start to wonder if anyone – even Brent – could be that deluded. In shades, leather waistcoats, tight jeans and using long ponderous song intros, the self-unaware absurdity is painted on with a wallpaper brush and as a result, anything resembling believability is smothered in goo.
That’s only part of the problem with the movie. Every piece of action, every plot development – not that there’s much – is telegraphed; after a couple of train wreck gigs, things get worse and worse … until there’s the anticipated twist as the band soften to him, reckoning that he’s ‘not a bad bloke really’.
Item two is the bog-standard Hollywood happy ending when, David, after ignoring her and treating her like his personal chattel, suddenly wisens up and with the light of romance in his eyes, sees the office drudge for who she really is. All Brent ever needed, it seems, was a good shag.
It’s not all bad. Or, at all bad. There are some archetypal quotable moments of cringe, with DB’s endless, perverted attempts to be ideologically clean, leading to him addressing the young rapper he patronises as ‘my nigger’, a surprisingly raw scene which plays far funnier than it looks on paper. There are others and for Brent fans – I’m one – there’s just about enough material to make the film essential viewing, but only with the proviso that this is a film about David Brent, rather than his ‘Office’.
Which is a pity really because there is another office and some of the characters there have distinct comedy potential – Jezza the office bully who think DB’s ‘a cunt’ and Serena who – like anyone who really did have to work with Brent – simply finds him ‘irritating’.
Since Ricky Gervais can do anything he wants, ‘Life on the Road’ is basically a vanity project, satisfying long-held musical pretend-or-maybe-not ‘ambitions’; apparently a Christmas single bid is the plan. Though the music is well played and produced, the songs themselves are boring, with Brent’s clumsy lyrical efforts to be relevant giving us titles like ‘Don’t Make Fun of the Disabled and ‘Equality Street’, a song first mentioned in a classic Office episode, ‘Training Day’ when he referred to it as ‘a political reggae song’. The joke worked better as a title.
RG’s has been at pains to point out that the songs in ‘LOTR’ are not ‘comedy’ but stand up in their own right. They don’t really, they’re amusing enough but whilst ‘Free Love Freeway’ isn’t a bad tune, it’s essentially throwaway; not many people would play it in its own right and it has to be heard in context.
So, whilst Life on the Road definitely appeals to fans of the Brentmeister, there’s too much flimflam and occasional slapstick to compare it favourably or even equally with the observational genius of The Office, which overall, is I suppose, only to be expected. Feature films of comedy series rarely work and whilst it’s not Holiday on the Buses, it does comes across a bit of a contrivance.
Ricky Gervias has succeeded in one way however.
I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. He managed to evoke a lukewarm response.
It’s okay, I suppose.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
The Office. And there are lots of them.