Directed by: Ricky Gervais
Produced by: Ricky Gervais
Screenplay by: Ricky Gervais
Starring: Ricky Gervais
Ben Bailey Smith
Music by: Ricky Gervais
Chris Martin (contributions)
Cinematography by: Remi Adefarasin
Editing by: Gary Dollner
Studio(s): Entertainment One
Distributed by: Entertainment One
Release date(s): August 19, 2016 (United Kingdom)
February 10, 2017 (United States)
Running time: 96 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Production budget: N/A
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $5, 511, 343
Today's film up for review is David Brent: Life On The Road, a comedic mockumentary movie written, directed, produced and starring Ricky Gervais in the title role. David Brent is the character that, despite a long career of numerous ventures, Gervais is perhaps still best known for, having played the part in the mockumentary sitcom The Office, which of course since it's run ended in 2003 has had a long-lasting life of it's own, and has inspired a whole franchise, with versions of the show being developed in the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Chile, Israel and Sweden. Also, I may as well just get out of the way that I am a fan of Ricky Gervais' work, in case you think there are any leanings or bias' here. He has emphasised during promotion for the film that this is "not an Office film," but instead explores "much more into his private life... and we really get to peel back the layers of this extraordinary, ordinary man." So, story goes that Gervais' David Brent is now a sales rep for a bathroom supply firm Lavichem, with colleagues who have a mixture of reactions to his antics, from sympathy to good humour to disgust and outright anger. Brent decides to take a month's unpaid leave, using money from his pension to assemble a band, and cover the costs of a tour to pursue his dream of being a rock star. Simple premise, m'kay? Got it? Good!
To start off with the good, Gervais' performance as David Brent is spot on. I know, I know, some of you are probably thinking I'm being a fanboy, and maybe I am (just a little bit), but it is a genuinely great performance. We know that he can handle comedy, and Gervais is a master of the execution of his own particular brand in this genre. He has great delivery and excellent timing of his lines, but he's also a great physical performer, conveying a lot through his body language. One of the things which he does well that isn't highlighted often enough, and is done well in this film, is his ability to turn it up a notch and be somewhat serious for a bit. He stays true to the idiosyncrasies of the Brentmeister, but we can see, especially because of his physicality, the light shining through the cracks in his impenetrably enthusiastic facade. He shows his signs of weakness through small gestures, and lets the audience see that this is a classic case of the tears of a clown. Then he recovers himself, and bounces back into being jolly in an almost bipolar manner. That is the mark of a great performer. As I have indicated earlier, this is a very funny film. There are obvious comparisons to be made with This Is Spinal Tap as we see things go tits up with Brent in a number of different situations over the course of the film, this ramshackle band playing some outrageously bad music. Gervais wrote most of the music, with contributions from Andy Burrows, who plays the drummer in Brent's Foregone Conclusion band, and the songs are a great balance of being catchy and listenable but also cringeworthy and deft parodies of a variety of influences. Incidentally, Ben Bailey Smith, who plays Dom Johnson in the film, seems like a real talent, both from a musical performance and acting standpoint. The social situations and the awkwardness of everything that's occurring makes for something both relatable and humorous. That doesn't mean that it is one of those comedies without gags, because it has many. If I had to gauge things with a proverbial Laughometer, it would be high, because I was pretty vocal throughout the film. There's some wonderful dialogue in the film that is just music to my ears, given my own tendencies as a dialogue-heavy writer. But it's not all just one-liners and humorous sketch-scenes. This brings me to another point, in that Gervais writes comedy which feels more real and empathetic to the world around us rather than the over-the-top guff that over-saturates the comedic market, particularly in the American market. All of what is happening in the film is going on for a reason, and contributes to the overall story and the message that it is trying to convey. In a world full of rubbish like Fifty Shades Of Black and Dirty Grandpa, it's nice to see that someone still has a sense of remaining grounded, knowing when to pull back and show restraint. So many comedic performers who have this degree of artistic control over their material tend to over-indulge themselves (I'm looking at you, Adam Sandler...), but Gervais is the opposite case and if anything it makes the humour feel refreshing. This is a charming, heartwarming, and very, very funny film.
That being said, and I'm not going to attack this because I do rather like it, there is one issue that does detract from it's overall quality. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's great, but it isn't a masterpiece in the way that Ricky Gervais has done before alongside Stephen Merchant with The Office or Extras. Heck, it's not his best movie either (that would go to the horrendously underrated and overlooked Cemetery Junction, which I reviewed all the way back in 2010). I know that Gervais, for all of his no-BS approach, is an artist whose works are full of sentimentality, and while that itself is not a problem, indeed, it's part of the charm of his work, ultimately it tends to make things at times predictable. Okay, I'm looking at it from a standpoint of someone very familiar with his work, but I think that many of those who would be unfamiliar could still see the development of the story coming a country mile away. I'm not going to be snarky and make some stupid attempt at punning wit on 'Foregone Conclusion' seeing as I like the film, and because frankly some other lesser critics who've went for the easy joke have probably done it about four or five times already. Just saying... Anywho, what it boils down to I think is that while the dressing around it is strong, so they came for the large part get away with it, it doesn't change the fact that it's a fairly rudimentary story that we have seen done umpteen times before. As well done as it is, no amount of good material can hide that.
So, those are my thoughts on David Brent: Life On The Road. While I stand by my reservations regarding the predictable and rudimentary base that he is working from, Gervais has crafted a great comedy. As a performer, he excels, he has a great understanding for humorous situations and as a director shows a restraint uncommon among the contemporary powerhouses in comedy. As such, it ends up being a pleasant change of pace from the dreck that we are force-fed day in, day out. It's charming, heartwarming and very, very funny.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good good (everything's good good these days! These reviews used to take forever. Now with all the energy I can bang 'em out in a couple of hours and make time to do more shit later on work wise!)
P.S. Thanks Ricky for the inclusion of David Bowie's Fashion. I miss him too.