Getting Out of The Office – Revisiting David Brent: Life on the Road

The Office fanatic Dylan tells us why David Brent’s low-grossing feature-length debut is worth another look.

Something I have always loved in fiction is finding out what happens to characters further down the line. I love the later stories of Sherlock Holmes, where we discover that he retired to the country to keep bees, and Tennyson’s poem Ulysses, in which we discover the king of Ithaca bore Odysseus later in life. Needless to say, the latest season of Twin Peaks is a joy for this reason, too.

Of course, there are plenty of cash-grabs, or poor narratives hidden behind recycled characters and fan service. But, if done right, we get to visit protagonists when they are older and more experienced, and discover what happened after their last story ended. A recent example of this was Ricky Gervais’ Life On the Road, where his character David Brent moved from television to movies for the first time, nearly fifteen years after his last appearance on The Office. For many people, this character is sacrosanct, and they wanted what happened next to be left alone. This may explain the rather lacklustre reviews and lukewarm box office for an extension of what is often considered the greatest sitcom of all time. Yet, when I finally got around to watching the film, I thought Gervais not only did justice to his most famous creation, but he expanded his canon into a genuinely touching new chapter.

The plot follows Brent who is still working as a travelling sales rep after leaving Wernham Hogg. However, after cashing in some pensions, he has enough money to fund a tour bus, hotels and new band members for his troupe, Forgone Conclusion. However, this doesn’t mean his music is any better, that his band members like him, or that anyone wants to see him play. Therefore, this is not a dramatic departure from the tone or style of The Office, but nor is this an exact retread. Although the mockumentary style is there, many familiar faces have gone. You aren’t going to find any Gareth bullying, or discover what happened to Dawn and Tim’s relationship. After a decade-and-a-half, the old team is on the scrapheap.

But Brent is still there, albeit a more world-weary, post-recession, post-depression Brent. He has a therapist, and has slipped from the boss man to a cubicle monkey. At least David was middle-management before, and in the last few seconds of his youth no less. Now, he is in an insecure position with retirement not a million miles away, staking everything on a last roll of the dice.

A lot of the reviews were concerned that Life On the Road is bleak in places and that the comedy is hard to spot, and undoubtedly, this can be a hard watch in places. However, this is not the depressing demise of a sitcom legend. Gervais always makes sure that Brent has compassion, and even as someone unlikable, he is always likable. The inclusion of Doc Brown as a comic foil to Brent is inspired. He is a fantastic stand-up in his own right, as well as a great comic actor, and someone who fits perfectly into Brent’s world. This is alongside an excellent supporting cast who add another layer of empathy to the script. David is the nucleus around which the rest of the actors revolve, and their reactions to his actions form enough of an emotional core to stop the film from ever becoming too hideous.

What makes the movie is the music within it. Just as the Dad’s Army are not cowards, David Brent is not funny because he cannot sing, but because of his attitude, dress sense and misguided lyrics. Never forget that Gervais was a professional musician and manager, and not a total failure by any means. And, of course, for Office fans, getting extended versions of “Paris Nights”, “Spaceman” and “Equality Street” is enough of a treat.

If you have never switched on The Office, then start with the sitcom first. This is, at best, an epilogue rather than a whole new beginning. But those familiar with the character will find a movie exploring the struggles of creativity, and the delusions formed by those who consider themselves artists. At the same time, the plot makes you think about why we laugh at Brent, and in the end, if he is a character to cheer for. If this is the character’s last walk into the sunset, then I recommend any fans to make sure you are there to watch it. 

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Although David Brent does some driving in the movie, Ricky Gervais who plays Brent admitted he can’t actually drive in real life.
  • When David leaves his office to go on tour, an instrumental version of “Handbags and Gladrags” plays. This was the theme tune to The Office.
  • When Pauline hands Brent his farewell card, he almost reveals what was bought as a leaving present for Pete Gibbons. A reference to episode six of The Office.
  • The first gig was played at the legendary Camden Barfly which is now closed. Another venue is believed to be the Waterrats in King’s Cross and the Electric Ballroom, Camden.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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