Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Ben Bailey Smith
Director: Ricky Gervais
Running Time: 98mins
Synopsis: Picking up in a real time 15 years since The Office ‘documentary’ ended we catch up with David Brent as he attempts to chase his dream of being a superstar singer, to incredibly awkward results.
TV comedy into big screen moviemaking is a tough balancing act. For every The Inbetweeners Movie, we get an Absolutely Fabulous Movie. For every Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, we get a Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. Basically go too big and you risk losing what was special about the original small screen effort or aim low and you risk undermining what felt epic on the little box. Ricky Gervais throws his hat in the ring with a film version of the hugely popular and much loved Office mockumentary.
The Office managed to balance incredibly uncomfortable moments with hugely touching glimpses into an odd assortment of flawed real people. But after that spot on final episode Gervais makes a smart choice in only following Brent rather than awkwardly catching up on the other members of Wernham Hogg. 15 years have passed and one mental breakdown later David has become a rep but continues to seek out fame and fortune as a singer-songwriter. Utilising his life savings he embarks on a countrywide (or more accurately Reading-wide) tour, bringing his band; Foregone Conclusion, along with him. In a painfully sad truth he is actually paying them to join this odyssey.
We lurch from seedy pub to seedy nightclub, via a bewildered student union, as we slowly see how vulnerable Brent has become since losing his job at the end of The Office. In a genius move Gervais conveys this vulnerability and fragile mental state with a consistent hesitant giggle that permeates every awkward encounter. His reach to be recognised for the song writing genius he believes he is is utterly heartbreaking and Gervais delivers this with utter conviction.
An even tougher act to pull off than making a successful big screen TV adaptation is creating bad songs that are somehow hilarious without being annoying. Assisted by real life musicians and Coldplay’s Chris Martin in one instance the songs featured are painfully funny and consistently hummable. One notable high point is an ode to the disabled that is both incredibly offensive and hilarious.
The Office was a huge success thanks to an ample and beautifully played ensemble cast. One area that this film suffers from not having, although Ben Bailey Smith delivers a breakout performance as a budding rap artist suckered in by Brent to trot out as his ‘black’ friend. Their relationship is nicely sketched out, Smith’s Dom Johnson seemingly only using David to get industry noticed but crying out for his approval. They share some of the films best moments.
The film does suffer from a drawn out mid section and Brent is such a foot in mouth awkward fool that spending a full on 90 minutes with him can be overwhelmingly tiring. However throughout it all Gervais manages to find real pathos in David’s yearn to be loved, portraying a broken man who cannot understand that to be liked you need not be creatively successful just true to yourself. A trite message to be sure but it is conveyed with such subtlety that the ending becomes hugely moving.
A lack of real belly laughs, a few poorly judged moments (one character says out loud about how the world has changed and why that has affected David so much), a flabby midsection and a few too many fat jokes does hamper the film somewhat but it is not enough to dampen what it is a loving send off to a true classic British character. And a film which uses having a beer with mates as an emotional revelation is aces in my book.
Verdict: Although tough to watch at times, nobody does social awkwardness better than Gervais, Life on the Road is a funny and surprisingly moving send-off to a British institution.