A squirm-athon from beginning to end.
“Life on the Road” is a mockumentary sequel to the classic British version of the TV comedy “The Office” (obviously later remade for the US market and featuring Steve Carell). Ricky Gervais played the ego-centric David Brent, a monster of a character who exercised what little control he had in his managerial role at a Slough paper company.
Here in “Life on the Road” we join Brent 15 years later where he has taken a rung or two down the career ladder and is working as a sales rep for Lavachem, a sanitary goods manufacturer, also based in Slough.
But Brent still harbours a dream of making it big in the rock world with his middle-of-the-road band called ‘Foregone Conclusion (2)’. Gathering around him his ethnic rapper ‘friend’ Dom Johnson (Doc Brown) and a band of session musicians (who can’t stand him), Brent cashes in “several pensions” to fund a tour of the venues of Berkshire… or at least, those that will give stage time over to a “shite band”. As the tour delivers predictably diminishing returns, and no record-company interest (at least, not in him) Brent is forced to face his inner demons and some uncomfortable truths.
Bringing TV comedy characters to screen is fraught with difficulty, and few have successfully done it. Even legends like Morecambe and Wise struggled with a series of lacklustre films. Perhaps in recent times Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge has come closest with “Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa” and indeed there are a lot of similarities visible between Partridge and Brent: both have extreme ego issues and self-centredness. But there are significant differences as well, for while Partridge is just an irritatingly loud and obnoxious minor-celebrity Brent – as this film makes much clearer – has real mental illness.
Is this therefore a comedy at all? Well, yes, but in a very black way. There are certainly moments of excellent humour, with the tattooing scene being a high-point. But the result of watching Brent’s progressive decline, with his nervous laugh as a constant ‘fingernails on chalk board’ reminder of his insecurity, results in a level of audience squirming that is palpable. Everything he does is perverse, from describing in excruciating detail every song before singing it, to spending his money on multiple hotel rooms when every gig is within the County of Berkshire.
As a black comedy its important that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and at 96 minutes it doesn’t. However, the film lacks the courage of its own dark convictions, and unnecessarily switches tack in the last reel to provide a degree of redemption for Brent. Whilst ‘sweet’, it is also implausible given what’s happened before and I would have suspected the interference of the director in lightening the mood of the writer’s original intent. However, as Gervais is both writer and director, there is no such excuse. That’s a shame.
So, in summary, an uncomfortable watch that aligns appropriately with the high squirm factor of the original TV show. Prepare to laugh, but feel a bit guilty in doing so.
Fad Rating: FFF.