I loved The Office, and the humour of Ricky Gervais can be sharp and funny. I also enjoyed watching those animated podcast sessions with Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. There's something cruelly British about the humour, in a male, piss-taking, bantering, high-school way. So what to make of the movie?
No, it doesn't deliver for me. Brent the ex-manager is now more of a buffoon than ever, dangerously close to the character 'Ken's Office-Trolley' from the Fast Show. In his office job, Brent is hyperactively annoying and immature, much more so than in the TV series. And just like in the Fast Show, there is a female office worker who is clearly in love with him, one of the few in the office who finds his wacky impressions funny. This could have been a more poignant, believable situation if Brent wasn't so over-the-top in this film.
What else? The film follows Brent and his band Foregone Conclusion on the road. Again, the ridiculousness of the songs is just a step too far. The band clearly feel embarrassed playing these songs, so why didn't they protest in the studio and rehearsal rooms?
What I liked least, though, was the ending. We do get a character-based journey with David Brent increasingly confronting the reality that he's not going to make it as a rock star. And just as importantly, that he's neither as funny or liked as he wants to be. This should have been the tipping point to him scaling back his delusional ambitions, and becoming the more likeable character I think he's capable of being.
Yet instead, at the end, we get the members of his band having one last drink with him (despite it being evident they can't stand him for most of the film), the producer telling him he likes him as a person (despite him earlier clearly not liking him), and at the very end, it being clear that Brent still has musical ambitions in him. We see him walking off with the woman-who-loves-him, explaining his song-writing passion, while also continuing to do his annoying, immature comedy routines. It's like he hasn't learned anything.
This is a shame, because the David Brent of the TV series wasn't this annoying, and there's enough to his character in terms of intelligence to suggest he could have become a more restrained, likeable, mature character. Was I expecting too much? I think there's more to both Gervais as a writer, and Brent as a character, than what we see in the puerility of Life on the Road.