4 September 2016

The World Gathered Round

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From the moment that the movie began with every-bodies favourite awkward sitcom character driving to work and singing aloud, I knew I was about to see one of the funniest films of the last few years. Despite how identical that set-up is however, I'm sadly not talking about David Brent: Life On The Road but rather the vastly superior spin-off movie Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. The Office may well be my favourite show of all time and so I was nervous when Gervais announced that Brent was going to be the star of his own film. Not least of all because it seems that the more I see of Gervais, a man I once considered to be an Emperor of comedy, the more I begin to wonder about the fleshy pink colour of his flabby new clothes. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening once described Gervais as being “the new Woody Allen”. But you know.. as much as that'd be nice, I'm not sure it's actually true. Allen is the writer/director of such classics as Annie Hall and Manhattan, and Gervais is the man behind some not-so-classics as The Invention Of Lying and The Special Correspondents. The only way that Groening's Allen comparison could be even remotely accurate would be if he was actually referring to an as yet undisclosed allegation regarding Gervais fucking private life.

David Brent: Life On The Road follows Brent as he spunks all of his money up the wall in an attempt to get a band to go on a shit tour of the local area with him. However, and bizarrely, it kind of suffers a similar problem to Jason Bourne in that the last time we saw the characters, they were both given the perfect ending to their respective stories. Although Brent might not have ended in a river and with a bullet in his back, The Office concluded with him gaining a little self-awareness and hinting towards a chance of happiness. I don't care how many punches I see Bourne throw- nothing will have as powerful an impact on me as the line “Chris, why don't you fuck off?” Can we really expect more for the character than we got? I mean, I hate to spoil this movie, but if you think it ends with him touring to millions of fans, then to quote Extra's Andy Millman when asked if he's really a Catholic, “You're going to be gutted”. In fact, the film actually seems to agree with me about The Office having the perfect ending because after ninety minutes it attempts to conclude itself in pretty much the exact same way. I mean, doesn't this basically undermine both endings? It's hard to feel involved in the sentiment when the character is learning the exact same lesson for at least the second time in his life? If Jason Bourne had ended with him back in that river and with a bullet in his back again, I'm pretty sure we'd have all left the cinema referring to it from then on as The Bourne fucking Idiocy.

Considering the bulk of the jokes in the movie are also just re-hashed versions of what we've already seen in the show, I suppose it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The awkwardness he feels around black people, gay people, and disabled people, as he digs his own grave in an attempt to seem open minded is pretty much the core of every joke in this film. Whilst this is true of The Office too, at least in that show Brent wasn't the only character, with Tim, Dawn, Gareth, and Finch also sharing in the story and humour. In that show Brent would say something stupid and the joke would be the reaction of Martin Freeman's face. Here Brent will say something stupid and it'll cut to some fucking randomer's facial reaction. But who gives a fuck about what they think about him? Most of these new characters come across as twats and so how are we meant to relate to them? Particularly when compared to the much more likeable and developed original characters. I mean, Finchy might be a bell-end too, but at least he's thrown a kettle over a pub. What have these people ever done?

And that for me is the problem with this movie. I saw Iron Maiden at a festival a few years ago and couldn't believe how funny they were. Not intentionally, of course. But it was clear that they must have been one of the main inspirations for This Is Spinal Tap by the fact that every time they started a new song I was waiting for the twelve inch replica of Stonehenge to be lowered from the fucking ceiling. Well, like that gig, This Is Spinal Tap is just one of the many better things to cast a shadow over David Brent: Life On The Road. Want to see a fake documentary about a shit band? This Is Spinal Tap is for you then. Want to see a fake documentary about David Brent? The Office is for you then. Okay- do you just want to see a really funny spin-off movie featuring a classic British comedy character? Alpha Papa it is then. At the very least, I guess the movie might be a chance to hear some of Brent's songs? Because to be fair to him they're actually really good. The jokes regarding the songs aren't normally how shit they are but rather how inappropriate they are in terms of either lyrics or Brent's performance. Well with the exception of one song, you don't even get to hear much of them, really. Just samples, which is a shame considering how catchy they all are. Although the one song you do hear the bulk of is pretty fucking funny, to be fair. Check it out on Spotify if you're not going to see the movie; it's called Don't Make Fun Of The Disableds.

However that's not to say that the movie is rubbish, because it's not. It's alright. It's average. Brent might not 'give shitty jobs', and thank God he's not made a shitty film yet, either. There's pretty much nothing new in this but it has one main selling point and that's Brent himself. It's not even that he's hilarious here, but rather that I just really, really like the character and just want things to turn out okay for him. Every bad joke, grab for fame, or awkward attempt at seeming hip is just an attempt to be liked on his part and I find it really endearing. I suppose this is why I like the ending of The Office so much because it gave him the closest I imagine that he can get to a happy ending. Although this movie essentially concludes in the same way, it does so in a way that's a lot more sentimental and a lot less subtle. Characters that have been a prick to him throughout seemingly change their opinion from out of nowhere. People tear up and Gervais does the worst thing he possibly can by skirting close to the God awful territory of Derek in a bid for sentiment. When Brent was fired in The Office or when Dawn returns to the party in the Christmas special, I find it impossible not to have a little eye explosion of emotion. In fact, thanks to how much of an effect the party scene in that conclusion has had on me, I literally have to pretend to have something in my eye every time I simply hear fucking Yazoo play. Since then however, it seems that whenever Gervais re-aims for that same feeling he always gets a little bit closer to Extras Andy Milman's shit sitcom When The Whistle Blows than I think he realises.

To kind of conclude, BBC film critic Mark Kermode has a theory about Tarantino in that his one absolute masterpiece is Jackie Brown. However, after that film didn't make as much money as Pulp Fiction, Kermode suspects that Tarantino panicked and began churning out movies that were more indulgent and derivative of his earlier and more popular stuff. You could almost argue that the same is true here too because I think that Gervais has created a phenomenal movie in the past, and this isn't it. David Brent: Life On The Road is an alright film but it's not a patch on Cemetery Junction which was brilliant in pretty much every single aspect. Despite this, it made basically no impact on the world which might explain The Office/Extras hybrid Life's Too Short and David Brent: Life On The Road that have subsequently followed. Do I recommend seeing David Brent: Life On The Road? Sure. It is funny and there's a likeable lead performance at the centre of it. In fact I think it's pretty obvious that in the way that the tour is clearly Brent's vanity project, the same is true of Gervais and this movie. Both character and comedian are failed musicians with an albums worth of catchy songs under their belt and a desire to get them out into the world. Sure the film's got problems, but it's also got enough in that I still came out of it pretty happy. At the end of the day I suppose that if you want the rainbow, you've gotta put up with the rain – do you know which philosopher said that? Dolly Parton! And people say she's just a big pair of tits! Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.