It's fair to say that 'The Office' was a well-observed mockumentary
sit-com about the everyday mundanity of office life. A rare thing in a
sit-com that seemed to improve as it went, making strong social comment
along with laughs.
But since the success of 'The Office', the Gervais-Merchant writing
team have delved into difficult areas; the social comment, and laughs,
declining as they went. 'Extras' felt indulgent and 'Life's Too Short'
short on a lot of things. Much like Steve Coogan with Alan Partridge
before him, Ricky Gervais - after some time away in Hollywood - has now
returned to the character that first made his name. However, this time
Stephen Merchant isn't anywhere to be found.
As explored in the final Christmas episodes, David Brent is now working
in the Berkshire area as a sales rep for a cleaning company. But,
self-absorbed as ever, having saved some money, he takes some time off
work, hires a backing band and sound engineer and organises a 'tour' of
the region, living out his dream of being a musician. But, inevitably,
his dream falls short for a second time.
The film, therefore, is a building on one of the famous 'The Office'
moments, where Brent 'went home to get' his guitar and tells the story
of his former dream during a rather unsuccessful training day. What
starts off as an adlibbed piece in a thirty minute episode becomes a
feature film. There is a hint of over-indulgence here.
When asked why there were so many songs in 'Bigger, Longer and Uncut',
Trey Parker and Matt Stone replied that they 'wanted to be rock stars.'
Gervais himself is a former musician, in a band that never quite made
it. 'David Brent: Life on the Road', therefore, is a vehicle for
Gervais to have his music heard on a wider scale. While these are songs
designed to be comical, they are passable as songs written by someone
who knows his stuff, rather than coming across as too amateurish. But
with so much screen time dedicated to live performances, the songs are
neither good, nor funny, enough to justify the focus.
No doubt one of the funniest elements of 'The Office' was Brent's
awkwardness when faced with sensitive subjects, such as race,
disability and sexuality. A lot of the songs featured are along similar
lines (literally), with awkward lyrics bordering on the offensive.
While no offence is intended, the fact that it has become such an
important part of his comedy over the years shows perhaps the frequent
post-irony at play has left Gervais confused as to his own thoughts on
the subjects. Moments become awkward, but for the wrong reasons.
There are laughs here: some office bants still feature; and some of the
songs do hit the funny bone on occasion. But one thing that's missing
here is the others: Gareth, Tim and Dawn were all important parts of
'The Office' structure, and Brent's playing off them is what made it so
strong. Here though, they are not present, and his interactions with
the band - with the exception of Doc Brown's Dom - are kept on stage,
lacking the natural flow of the series.
But, more importantly, it may be the absence of Merchant that is most
noticeable. Gervais needed the second writer to reign the Brent within
and stop this feeling like life imitating art.
As Richard Herring would say: 'They should have put Tim from 'The
Office' in it.'