If you're a fan of the British version of The Office, you'll know what we mean when we say David Brent: Life on the Road is almost unwatchable, but still worth a watch. This big-screen sorta-sequel follows Brent (Ricky Gervais) around as he gives his music career one last shot. Set a dozen years after The Office, Brent is now a sanitary products sales rep who invests a huge amount of his pension money in touring himself, his session band and his incongruous (but very much appreciated) young rapper friend Dom (Ben Bailey Smith) around on a self-made tour of Slough and the surrounding counties. The resulting 95 minutes rapidly deteriorate into an awkward hellscape puppeteered by Gervais' masochistic desire to make the audience squirm.
While it's no Oscar winner, fans of The Office, and Gervais in general, will still find plenty to enjoy. Whereas the OG David Brent was built on classic British humour, modern day Brent is a more international flavour and slightly more palatable for it. Some of the gags are far too obvious, most of the ancillary characters might as well be cardboard cut outs with looks of disgust on their faces, and the narrative is just a series of exponentially embarrassing moments.
In truth, the superficiality of the narrative is almost a relief, since Brent definitely doesn't have enough depth as a character to carry the plot for the length of an entire feature. True to form, the most excruciating moments aren't Brent's absurd stage antics or his terrible music (including such hits as "Please Don't Make Fun of the Disableds" and "Lonely Cowboy"). Nor are they his creepy and frequently offensive attempts to hit on women, or the ratty little grin that's constantly smeared on his chubby face. Instead, it's the brief but devastating moments when Brent pulls the cartoon mask up and becomes a vulnerable man with no friends. The shots of his tiny apartment, his failed attempts to mingle, the cheesy outfits of which he's so proud and his desperate need to be liked are so real. Too real. The tender heart at the centre of so much bluff is what makes the franchise continue to work.
Some of the more depressing elements that defined The Office have been spruced up for the big screen. Gone are the halogen lights, wobbly camera angles and general low-budget vibes. Instead we're served great production to smother the stink of desperation – and honestly, it's a better film for it. Like the series before it, Life on the Road isn't for everyone, but has enough weirdness and insight to age into a cult favourite.