- This is a kind of blog. I kind of had enough venom at the piece of mediocrity that just got into my eyes. But it wasn’t real anger. It didn’t last long enough to be bothered enough to kind of shape it and pull it together properly.
NB Throughout references to Brent are referring to Brent:Life on The Road, or whatever it is fucking called.
There are times watching Brent when I wonder if the muscle memory of self-awareness remains in the work of Ricky Gervais. But I just think it’s the shadow of past glory rather than any dormant comic talent. Or even more likely, something that looks like self-awareness but it just pretty mediocre comedy.
The problem with David Brent as a character is that he was perfect for a sitcom: if he learns he is a prick, he stops being funny. Him recognising it in the last episode was kind of fine by that rationale as there was no re-set required. But for the film – ignoring the odd Comic Relief sketch – he needs to be deluded.
One of the problems with this film is we are asked to ignore the fact that Brent is a horrible person without any cause. It’s mainly because we’re 75 minutes into a 90-minute film and that’s about when the bit the main character requires catharsis and resolution. So it arrives despite no point of realisation of his inadequacies and ugliness, indeed there’s is more of a repositioning ‘no this cuntish behaviour and invidious human is alright’. There is no fuck off to Chris Finch moment. Even shit comedy narratives have become post-truth and post-reason.
We are simultaneously asked to believe that Brent deserves redemption (he doesn’t, hasn’t earned it), that some people don’t find him annoying (I can live with that, people are fucking morons) and that both can be resolved simultaneously.
There is an undeserved sentimentality to Gervais’ latter work that is inauthentic. But because the message in that moment is something like “being mean to people isn’t OK” it is seemingly above being questioned. Towards the end of the film a two-dimensional office hard guy calls Brent out on being annoying (note: Brent is annoying, in his universe where he is real he is very annoying, while accepting this world is fictional Gervais is very much commenting on the real world), he does it with a quite aggressive tone but he remain sat at a desk, there’s only so aggressive anyone can be sat at a desk. He then gets on the phone and a receptionist interrupts him in a conversation to call him out (admittedly people talking to people who are clearly on the phone is one of my least favourite things) for being mean.
To camera she explains later that she likes Brent and thinks he is funny. Which, apart from anything else, makes her someone Gervais the creator judges? Right? He has always stood by the humanity of Brent (because he plays him, no doubt) but he and Merchant were clear from the outset that Brent was the kind of character who existed in everyone’s office. And he was a dick.
How many times can they use the trope of self-awareness with Brent? He tries to hard, he just needs to relax and be himself…and then he is annoying and lacking the perspective of his epiphany. See: the “fuck off” to Finchy and inertia future glimpses of Brent has shown – and the one he has at the end of this film followed by a return to his office to display he didn’t actually learn anything from the band only spending time with him when he dropped the act. BUT THIS DOESN’T RESONATE WITH THE IMPLICATION THAT THIS ISN’T AN ACT, HE REVERTS TO TYPE/NATURAL BEHAVIOUR.
The narrative is very stretched by plausibility. The band who all despise Brent just start liking him out of nowhere. They all charge him for their time to have one drink with him after a gig, sit mainly in silence for this time, show no signs of recognising this isn’t OK – or, indeed, that there is a glimpse of any notion of camaraderie or that they like Brent. Then the next bit is them all admitting to camera that they’ve grown to like him/think there’s something funny about him.
There is also some kind of meta-thing going on. One of the funnier bits of the film is showing Brent explain the narratives of his supposedly layered lyrical metaphors, when in fact the songs are ridiculously clear in their figurative language. This is kind of unnecessarily supplemented by the band explaining that Brent goes to unnecessary lengths on stage to explain the narrative of each song’s supposed . Yet the film does this with its to-camera pieces. Perhaps a by-product of pandering to people who find Derek funny?
In The Office this element of faux-documentary was used to add depth to anguish of characters (Tim and Dawn) / display lack of hidden depth (Brent and Gareth). In Brent its used so the band can explain jokes the viewer has already seen and, towards the end, to explain that,despite everything we’ve seen, Brent is an OK guy.
Clearly Brent is not the worst person in the world. But the character was (WAS) an amazing representation of the kind of person people in offices can grow to hate more than they’d hate perpetrators of genocide.
“He’s not racist” one of the band says, explaining what I think no-one had assumed (I think it is fair to say I might be over-estimating the audience as I have heard lots of reviews that were complimentary about the film). And I don’t think anyone has assumed Gervais of being racist. But he does rather labour the whole ‘laughing at racism by getting laughs out of material about race’. Like maybe a middle-aged comedian who has put a younger black comedian in his film so that he could make lots of jokes about race and feel OK about it. Oh.
While we’re talking about returning to well-ploughed Gervais furrows: how about we retire jokes about overweight women? Again lets suppose how Gervais thinks societal and cultural views of body and self-image require mockery…by making jokes about fat women.
So, the reboot to his original lack of awareness is fine for the film, aka cash-in, angle but it when he has his re-redemption it doesn’t even sustain doesn’t even sustain to the credits. And it’s almost entirely not funny.