Critics are divided over Ricky Gervais's new mockumentary David Brent: Life on the Road, which opens in the UK on August 19
David Brent’s big-screen outing has received mixed reviews, with critics calling the Ricky Gervais movie both ‘excruciatingly brilliant’ and a ‘slowly unfolding disappointment’.
Following on from BBC mockumentary The Office, Brent now sells cleaning products but thinks of himself as a rock star.
The former office manager pursues his dreams of musical stardom by embarking on a tour with his band, Foregone Conclusion – funded entirely from his own pocket.
Kevin Maher of The Times called David Brent: Life On The Road ‘relentless and unforgiving comedy squirm at its most sublime’.
The film will, ‘in true Hollywood style, make you laugh, make you gasp and might even tug at your heartstrings’, he said.
The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin awarded the movie four stars and described it as ‘toe-twistingly funny’.
“After his recent tirades about comedy and offensiveness on social media, I’m not entirely convinced Gervais understands the intricate comic mechanisms that make Brent work – but then eight-year-old Mozart couldn’t transcribe musical notation when he wrote his first symphony,” he said.
But many critics said that a joke using the N-word and a Chinese racial stereotype misfired.
Sean O’Grady wrote in The Independent: “In the same way that Alf Garnett was supposed to be an outrageous caricature of a Tory racist bigot we were supposed to laugh at, and instead turned into a hero figure for the wrong kind of people, maybe there is a bit of the Brent creation that, in the wrong hands, could be used to hurtful, hateful effect.”
But he called the film ‘excruciatingly brilliant’, adding: “If you have missed Brent, more or less absent from our screens in the 12 years since the last episode of the original The Office series was run, then you will be pleased to learn that he is back, and more grotesque, more embarrassing, and more humiliated by life than ever.”
In the Daily Mirror, David Edwards called the movie, which was also written and directed by Gervais, ‘the funniest film of the year. Fact’.
He wrote: “Hilarious, horrifying and even heartbreaking – Ricky Gervais has made a movie that is somehow unmissable and often unwatchable at the same time.
“Not since Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat 10 years ago has there been a mockumentary that is so appalling funny.”
But the Daily Mail’s Brian Viner gave the film just two stars, saying it had ‘too many dud notes’ and was a ‘slowly unfolding disappointment’.
He said Gervais had ‘lost a grip on the subtleties that characterised The Office’.
“Comic characters conceived for TV very often misfire in the cinema, but there’s an even more worrying development here as the line between Gervais and his embarrassing alter ego, Brent, becomes blurred.
“There was never any doubt, watching The Office, that Brent was the grotesque and Gervais the comedic mastermind inhabiting him. But here it is Gervais, not Brent, who strives too hard to be the centre of attention, whose lack of sensitivity grates, whose jokes fall flat.”
Jimi Famurewa gave the film two stars in Empire Online, saying the laughs ‘dry up’.
“Life On The Road can never quite escape unfavourable comparison to that first, unimproveable finale and, in the end, it mostly feels like a faint photocopy of what we’ve seen before,” he wrote.
Henry Barnes wrote in The Guardian: “At its best it carries the tradition of the little man struggling against his own confines. At its worst – weak gags about fat people, moments when Brent’s too stupid for his back story – it’s small, shabby and outdated.”
He said the ‘character endures’, but added: “There were braver things Gervais could have done with the character, the bravest being leaving him where he was. The Office was left near-perfect.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton said the film was ‘more cash-in reunion tour than killer comeback album’ and felt more like an ‘extended TV special’.
David Brent: Life On The Road is released on August 19.