I finally got a chance to watch David Brent: Life on the Road the other night and I was honestly surprised at how good it was. Usually when a half hour TV show is picked up and optioned for a movie you end up with a mish-mash effort that would be great – if it was a half hour - but when it’s gotta run something like 90 minutes these TV-to-movie transitions often get bogged down and lost in the effort to extend the screen time. The story becomes a diluted mess, and the characters stumble through the extra minutes, where before they ran wild and free. In a manner of speaking.
When The Office first appeared on TV screens it was something new and exciting. A mockumentary moonlighting as a documentary. The TV mocku-docu-drama came of age, where before the likes of Spinal Tap and Bad News might have reigned supreme. The difference being with This is Spinal Tap and Bad News it was obvious that art was imitating life. With The Office it wasn’t so easy to tell right away, and I’ll admit that for almost all of that first episode I was thinking to myself ‘what in the bloody hell is this?!’ When the penny dropped of course I fell in love with the show, and soon became a huge admirer of Ricky Gervais.
Over the years now, I’ve followed pretty much everything Ricky has done, but one thing that has always caught my attention is the way he addresses humanity, human frailty and human interactions through his story telling. As a writer it’s something I deeply admire, and as awkward and painful to watch, as his characters mostly are, they still have redeeming qualities or at the very least moments of redemption and consequence.
Life on The Road stays true to its budget roots, keeping to the premise of a camera crew following the hapless David Brent around as he wends his way through life. In Life on the Road the camera crew seemingly want to pick up where they left off, to see what has become of David in the intervening years since he left Wernham Hogg. They find him now following his dreams of rock stardom, even as he spends his days as a travelling salesman. Even though we still catch glimpses of the outrageous and optimistic David Brent we once knew, now we also see the thousand little scrapes and scratches that are eating away at his over-the-top persona. He is finding it harder to hide behind the self-described veneer of ‘Entertainer’, and you really just feel for the guy. He’s like the friendless kid at school who just wanted to be accepted, who is always desperately trying to do anything to make that happen. Yes, Gervais wonderful writing strikes again, and just when you’re thinking David is a hopeless case he reels you back in with his ace of hearts. Humanity. The bastard just does it so well.