This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s mockumentary from 1984, first came to mind when I saw the trailers for this, but it is a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s as laugh-out-loud funny, and even more cringeworthy in its depiction of the self-deluding, wannabe rock star, but Ricky Gervais’s new movie is also poignant and warm-hearted in a way that Reiner’s never attempted to be.
Reprising David Brent from TV’s The Office, Gervais has his gormless alter ego take two weeks’ leave from his job as a sales rep to hit the road with a band of less-than-enthusiastic hired musos. A camera crew accompanies David throughout and he regularly speaks to you, the viewer, as do the guys in the group and his fellow office employees. Unfortunately for David, who has sunk all of his savings into the venture, nobody takes him seriously, and worse, he can’t draw a crowd to any of the gigs. None of which appears to have any impact on David’s commitment to the dream or on his brittle vanity. But reality eventually takes its toll, as it does on all of us. Gervais is so good at the awkward, socially inept personality – you feel for him at the same time as you squirm at his tackiness.
The songs he writes, and that he feels compelled to explain before every rendition of them, are lyrically excruciating but side-splitting in their un-PC humour – ‘Don’t be unkind to the disabled’, performed before a handful of stunned drinkers, is brill. He annoys but gets under your skin, for there is something of Everyman in the David who passes out in the chair while having ‘Berkshire’ tattooed on his arm – unable to continue, he leaves it as ‘Berk’.
All he wants is to be liked and accepted, but he hasn’t got a clue about how to achieve that goal, so when a sweet and subtle romance unfolds, despite his blinkered appraisal of those around him, you rejoice at David’s emotional salvation. The last shot is gold.