Life on the Road

LIFE ON THE ROAD: Starring Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Nina Sosanya, Tom Basden, and others. Directed by Ricky Gervais. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language). 96 min.

This British documentary intentionally makes fun of the character of David Brent, who was a central character in the BBC television comedy series, "The Office". Ricky Gervais plays the same character in this movie, and Gervais directs and co-produces the film, which is about himself.

 The film is semi-biographical. Brent is depicted as someone who wants to become a rock star and a film crew follows him around making a documentary about him, as he pursues his dream. The film expands on the character of Brent as depicted in "The Office", but is basically an enactment of Gervais' personal fantasy to be a rock star.

 The film takes place some 15 years after the events of "The Office". David Brent by now has left the firm of "Wernham Hogg", and is a sales representative for a cleaning and hygiene products firm in Britain. In this film, he leaves his new job for a time to put a band of mercenary musicians together to pursue musical fame. Being just as difficult and fractious as he ever was - which creates good nostalgic comedy - Brent has a personal therapist (Nina Sosanya) and a road manager (Tom Basden) to help him cope.

 Brent's band is called "Foregone Conclusion", which is a band that featured in "The Office". In the new plot, there is no love lost between Brent and his fellow band members. They constantly look distraught, and can't understand his ambition at all, but Brent keeps on going and makes huge mistakes along the way. The money Brent is getting from ticket sales on his tour, for instance, is less that what he has to pay his band members, so he uses his pension fund to finance the difference. Interpersonal tensions also exist. Brent feels that there are talented musicians in his band (like Doc Brown as Dom Johnson), who are affecting the advancement of his musical career.

 The movie features a selection of songs, sung and performed by Ricky Gervais. Some of them were in "The Office" where the character of David Brent sang them, but most of the songs heard in this film are new to "The Office" series. Nearly all of them are politically incorrect in some way, and are very much misunderstood or unappreciated by the audiences Brent is desperate to win over.

 There is a strong feeling of egotistical involvement about this movie. Gervais has directed the film so as to "show the world what David Brent is up to now". The film takes a character (called Brent), plucks him out of a popular comedy series (called "The Office"), and develops a fantasy identity surrounding the person (Gervais) who played him before. Essentially, it is a movie that takes an identity developed somewhere else, to pursue a vision of another type of person, and integrates past and present around an ambition, which Brent (Gervais) describes as giving "inner strength".

 This film confirms Brent's musical talent, and sets out in self-mocking style to follow its own by-line (about Gervais) which says: "I'm a friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer, third". There are some genuinely funny moments in the film when Brent projects his deluded, difficult self yet again, but there is also a touch of sadness about the fact that viewers are made privy to an unfulfilled dream. The tour is a disaster, and filled with "embarrassing moments" for David Brent.

For fans of David Brent in "The Office", the film is an intriguing development of a major character. As such, the film is entertaining, but it is a highly unusual one. It throws its witticisms out in a very politically incorrect, confronting way. It is often crude, and talks introspectively and personally to its audience, almost at every turn. It ends up with Gervais giving the message, "like me if you can!" You end up saying "yes" to that challenge, though a little reluctantly.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

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