When Steve Coogan brought his most popular comic creation, Alan Partridge, to the big screen in Alpha Papa, fans had anticipated an extension of sorts of the mini-series Mid-Morning Matters, where the fragility of the character was highlighted, and we saw the tragic aspects of his demeanour come to the forefront. But the film resisted the chance to explore these flaws, playing primarily for laughs and little more. Now Ricky Gervais has followed in the footsteps of his counterpart to give David Brent a big-screen outing, but he’s thrived where Coogan failed, studiously lingering over the character’s vulnerability and volatile mental state.
Gervais reprises his role as David Brent, the subject of this follow-up documentary, to see where he’s at after his flirtation with fame following the BBC series The Office. He’s now a salesman, and a source of great annoyance to his colleagues, and so provides them all with a breather when he decides to finally take his band, Foregone Conclusion, on a tour of the South East, complete with friend, and rapper, Dom (Doc Brown). Bankrolling the entire endeavour, with a tour bus, hotels and session musicians that want to be anywhere else, Brent plays a host of clubs and bars – the problem is, nobody is bothering to turn up.
Unlike many other big-screen projects based on British sitcoms, with David Brent there’s a less contrived reason for its existence – again presented as a mockumentary, making sense in the timeline that is this pathetic little man’s life. The tragic nature to Brent’s demeanour is explored significantly, in a film that revels in pathos almost to the same extent it does comedy. It’s the sadness of the role that makes him so special though, and so real – and thankfully, given he’s someone we have grown to know so well across the years and feel somewhat endeared to, we have a personal connection and immediate investment which serves the project well. Plus, it helps that when he offends people, be it women or native americans, we know it’s coming from a certain ignorance and naivety, and not from a place of nastiness; which is important to establish, for otherwise this is a film that could rile people up in the wrong way.
On a more negative note, the film is lacking any truly comedically inclined supporting roles, leaving all jokes to fall on the lap of the titular protagonist, when the series would have characters like Gareth providing laughs, and allowing Brent, at times, to appear the ‘normal’ one. Which served the character well; whereas in this instance nobody quite steps up to the plate in that regard. Thankfully the narrative is broken up instead by the musical numbers, which are brilliantly devised. For they aren’t very good, but crucially, they aren’t that bad either – and that’s the beauty of them. It’s handy this be the case because the narrative doesn’t exactly go anywhere as such, but in this case it’s not an issue, spending time in the main man’s company is good enough.