Following in the footsteps of British television comedy icons such as Mr. Bean, Ali G, and Alan Partridge, the infamous star of The Office, David Brent, makes a belated switch to the big screen. Much like those who have gone before, the transition has yielded mixed results. While there are moments of comedy gold to be found, the story feels padded out to suit the cinematic format. When it works you are reminded of the true comedic brilliance of Ricky Gervais’ creation. The momentum doesn’t quite carry through the whole film and some scenes fall painfully flat. It is also hindered by a meanness to the comedy, which on a few occasions comes across as more cruel than funny.
The film adopts the same mockumentary approach that worked so well in the T.V show. Catching up with Brent 13 years after the final Christmas episodes of The Office, it comes as no surprise that very little has changed. He is still stuck in a depressingly mundane sales job in Slough, irking fellow colleagues with bad jokes, inappropriate behaviour and overt aversion to political correctness. Dreams of rock stardom also remain very much at the forefront of his mind. Despite only having 4 days of annual leave, he takes a break from the daily routine to embark on an unpaid, self funded tour with a new incantation of his band Foregone Conclusion. A camera crew follows the ill fated trek as Brent’s inane songbook is unleashed on an unsuspecting public and his utterly bewildered bandmates.
The cringe inducing social awkwardness and misguided self delusion which made Brent such a memorable screen presence is in full throw again here. Brent’s painfully funny antics are at their best during the film when he is on stage. Playing to mostly empty venues, the Foregone Conclusion setlist is a wonder to behold. His absurd lyrics and derivative arrangements are jaw droppingly hilarious and delivered beautifully. Native American, Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds and Equality Street are notable highlights. Beyond the silliness, there is a pathos to the character which adds an occasional sombre tone to proceedings. When you begin to pity Brent, the film stumbles. The other band members persistently snub their frontman, forcing him to drive himself to gigs and refusing to drink with him unless they are paid. Most of his office colleagues such as Jezza Collins (Andrew Brooke) are utterly detestable also. In these moments the supporting characters come across as being outright nasty, badly lacking the wit and charm that made the ensemble in the TV show so appealing. Brent himself has a few dud moments thrown into the mix. A scene where he brings two women back to his hotel overstays it’s welcome and is particularly ill-judged. On the plus side, there are fine turns from Dom Johnson as a young and talented rapper Doc Brown, who Brent takes under his wing to add some credibility to his act. Jo Hartley also plays a nice supporting role as Brent’s co-worker Pauline Gray, who may be the key to his salvation.
As writer, director and star, Gervais underlines his deserved status as one of Britain’s finest comic talents. Brent is a fantastic character and this film has enough strong points to make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, it lacks the consistency of the TV show and suffers from a few meandering scenes which are more filler than killer. As the final song ‘Don’t Cry It’s Christmas’ plays, you can’t help but feel that this David Brent story would have been better suited to another more concise seasonal special.