Esteemed British TV sitcoms have traditionally had a chequered past with big screen movie adaptations of their character’s stories. This year alone has seen the likes of ‘Dad’s Army’ (albeit with a fresh cast) and ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, struggle to hit the high notes of previous adventures. So it was with trepidation that I decided to see whether Ricky Gervais’ David Brent creation was back with a bang or a trademark whimper.
Fifteen years after ‘The Office’, we find Brent back in the workplace, but working as a lowly rep selling products, with his band Forgone Conclusion taking up most of his time, as they embark on a Berkishire-wide tour. It’s a strong concept and one that Gervais has been building up for a few years, dropping Brent into short Comic Relief skits to see if there’s an appetite for more of the uncomfortable, awkward humour that really kicked off his own comedic career at the turn of the millennium.
Gervais is in his element as Brent, the character made for him and he clearly takes delight at slicking back his hair, throwing on the suit and introducing the mannerisms of a socially awkward man. And it’s his film too, written, directed and starring the main man. As far as a supporting cast goes, the only truly familiar face is rapper/comedian Doc Brown, as Brent’s best friend outside of the workplace. He could’ve ultimately been used more, and in his big scene on-stage, he’s excellent.
The formula is an ultimately entertaining one; you quickly familiarise yourself with the ticks and mannerisms that make this character what he is. While the surroundings of Wernham Hogg and stars in the making like Martin Freeman and Steven Merchant are totally absent from this story, they’re never too far from the back of your mind. Touring with Foregone Conclusion is a great scenario to throw this unpredictable character into, to differentiate the big-screen adaptation from its previous work, but there are elements that don’t quite work.
When it was first released, ‘The Office’, was one of few shows to take on the ‘mockumentary’ mantle and was genre-changing in that aspect. In 2016, however, we’re far more used to the style and in the film it often takes a backseat to the story, which is a positive move in my eyes. Often I found myself enjoying things just simply playing out, before a talking head with a band member offering commentary on a situation took me back out of it.
The music itself could be stronger too, with songs mostly focusing on offending a social group or nationality and with titles like ‘Native American’, ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ and ‘Lady Gypsy’, you can see where I’m coming from. There is some fun to be had with the touring scenario and gigs themselves, the disdain of his bandmates never stopping Brent from trying to ‘fit in’ and score that elusive record deal. There are a couple of nice musical cameos though, one obvious and one less so, that’ll bring a smile to your face. That all being said, a few hours after viewing the film, I am going back to the songs, which musically are on point, with ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows a part of a band of real-life musicians, and enjoying them! So who quite knows whether they’ll stand up in the long run.
But this is only really one man’s film: Gervais’. He’s centre stage (literally) for every scene and is really put under the microscope in the more tender scenes with the character, whose not handled the aftermath of the previous documentary amazingly well. Without spoiling anything, the humanisation the film attempts to do with Brent works effectively, he is a man who just wants people to like him, but thinks nobody likes him.
All in all, the film is a decent effort at reviving the former glories of Brent. It’s not on the same level of ‘The Office’ that’s for sure, it struggles to recapture the authenticity and spirit of the original series.But Gervais’ comedic chops are on show here for all to see, and his performance reminds you just what a great character he and Merchant created all those years ago, even if the story can’t quite match the performance.