A pathetic middle aged man tries to revive his career as an entertainer by dusting off David Brent, the character that first made him famous.
Fifteen years on from The Office comes the fourth best film to have the initials LOTR in its name. It’s inevitable that without Gareth, Tim, Dawn, Finchy and Big Keith it can’t reach the standard of its mockumentary origins, but nor is it as horrifying as it could have been. In fact a better title might have been David Brent: Middle of the Road.
The pretext is that it’s a documentary, but it’s not filmed in that way and is the worse for it. Brent tours round Reading with Forgone Conclusion Mark 2, a band who hate him and are only there because he’s paying them. This is probably the element of the film that betrays its authenticity the most – it feels more like the pretext of a farce comedy than a satirical documentary about a man desperate for fame. It also feels like a missed opportunity to have some quirky or memorable supporting characters of the sort that made The Office such a delight.
A cynic might say this absence is because Gervais’s ego has outgrown an ensemble film. While in The Office he was the boss and central character, here he’s the only character. His band-mates are interchangeable and bland – they all hate him and don’t want to spend any time with him. If they had given him a group of weirdos who actually sort-of looked up to him (like Gareth did) there may have been more opportunities for laughs.
There are some cringey chuckles and the usual backfiring attempts to appear PC that at least deliver the minimum you expect from a David Brent film. There are more laughs than are shown in the trailer too, which shouldn’t be surprising, but is. But the story arc feels forced, particularly when it repeats what was done so well in the Christmas specials – which probably should have been Brent’s curtain call.
Nothing has move on since then, when Brent was a travelling salesman doing celebrity appearances in bars and nightclubs. Fifteen years on not much has changed, making him seem sadder and more desperate than he needed to be. He was essentially a satire of a boss, but no effort is made to re-create any of the dynamics or interplay between characters that worked so well.
Gervais, always so keen to mock and deride comedians who do the same thing for decades and rely on the same tropes, here trots out exact lines from The Office. As his dopey chuckles at the end of every sentence become increasingly annoying, and his once-fresh glances to camera turn stale, it begins to feel like Extras‘ Andy Millman shouting his catchphrase when the serious play he’s in falls apart. The man who once revolutionised comedy tries to re-capture past glories, but like his character playing to empty bars, he can’t see that it’s time to move on.