When Joss Whedon announced in 2009 he was working on a sequel to his beloved cult hit Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I didn’t celebrate like so many other fans of the Neil Patrick Harris musical. I always loved how perfectly things ended in the original. Ambiguous and completely debatable, the parting shot was as argued over as the ending to Inception, and the idea of a sequel showing me past the curtain I preferred leaving a mystery bothered me. (Many Blade Runner fans are going through the same torment in the months leading up to Blade Runner 2049.)
David Brent: Life on the Road comes with the same inherent problem. Ricky Gervais’ blisteringly funny and hugely influential UK series The Office ended its run with a two-part special that left Gervais’ obliviously insecure creation with a modicum of growth and the germination of a self-aware maturity — not to mention finding a woman who loved him for who he was.
By revisiting Brent beyond his character’s best ending point, Life on the Road can’t help but ruin the Schrodinger’s Cat that was the unknown future of David Brent. The biggest relief of the picture, though, is that for the most part, it’s just funny enough in its own right to make it worth the peek.
Fifteen years after the being turned into a national fool on BBC’s docuseries-within-the-mockuseries The Office, Brent is now a sales rep for a bathroom supply company. Most of the people at the office dislike Brent and openly harass him. The potential love interest from the series’ finale is long gone and Brent is more alone than ever.
Desperate for success and blindly chasing after his rock-band pipe dream Foregone Conclusion, he spends thousands after thousands booking a three-week tour around England, including paying for all of his band’s salaries during the tour.
To say it goes poorly is an understatement.
The power of all of Ricky Gervais’ characters is their utter resilience to all the injustices, hypocrisies, and difficulties they ultimately bring upon themselves.
On The Office, the true sadness of Brent’s humiliating life was always counterbalanced by the comic antics of Tim, Dawn, Gareth, and the other officemates. Without their presence and levity, there’s no escaping just how sad an existence Brent lives, which only gets sadder as the movie rocks along.
And yet, just as the greatest comedy always comes out of tragedy or misfortune, Gervais is able to squeeze such cringe-inducing moments of discomfort, such bombastically funny moments of runaway lunacy, David Brent: Life on the Road is funny far more often than the awfully depressing subject matter warrants. And when it’s funny, it is funny.
Gervais is excellent, as everyone could predict. He’s been playing this character most of his adult life at this point and it still feels the most comfortable for him to slip into of any of his comic creations.
Everyone else in the movie is forgettable at best, though, and unlikeable at worst. Even the character of Dom (Ben Bailey Smith), who joins Brent on tour as his supporting act — who we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with and relate to in the absence of Martin Freeman — never really becomes more than not-particularly-uninteresting.
Some of the cringes and laughs in David Brent: Life on the Road are equal to those found in The Office, which is a huge compliment to the movie. For a film with no good reason to exist, Gervais makes the most of his character’s second life.
Ultimately, Life on the Road still makes me wish Schrodinger’s Cat had been left alone after The Office ended. But if the grave was going to get exhumed anyway, David Brent: Life on the Road is much sharper and far funnier than it has any right to be.