Everyone who has worked in an office has encountered a David Brent, but it the man’s unfulfilled life outside work that drives Ricky Gervais’ belated big screen follow-up to his and Stephen Merchant’s early-2000s comedy series The Office.

It’s a movie that will have you laughing out loud almost as much as watching through your fingers, cringing.

More than a decade after The Office, Brent is a travelling sales rep at a firm called Lavichem where most of his colleagues hate him.

Blowing a hole in his savings and taking unpaid leave, he hires a backing band for a make or break tour in pursuit of his dreams of rock stardom – seven gigs in three weeks in the Berkshire area, but mandatory tour bus and hotels nevertheless.

The ‘tour’ is a frequently hilarious catastrophe of empty venues, a band that dislikes him and his inadvertently offensive songs.

Gervais has always liked to play with what is unacceptable and Life on the Road again pushes the envelope.

There are long, agonising scenes where Brent’s verbal diarrhoea and lyrics are almost too much to stomach, walking that ‘it’s ironic, not offensive’ line and just about keeping the viewer on side, despairing at this man’s ham-fisted attempts to be liked.

His paid-for band offer a series of sceptical talking heads echoing our embarrassment, explaining and giving context to his most awkward moments.

Taking Brent out of his office makes him more ridiculous than ever and there’s a hint of Alan Partridge, his similarly deluded kindred spirit, in this film.

But whereas Steve Coogan put Partridge in a big screen heist movie, Gervais has kept Brent appropriately small fry, with the same documentary feel as The Office.

What The Office had that Life on the Road lacks is scope beyond Brent. There’s no infuriating Gareth or Tim/Dawn will-they-won’t-they. Dom Brown’s rapper Dom, who inadvertently becomes Brent’s sidekick, is the only other character in the film who leaves a mark.

Sometimes, Gervais’ work has felt misanthropic but Life on the Road is redeemed in a satisfying final act when Brent’s attention-seeking clown mask finally slips.

While The Office made us feel like we all know a Brent, Life on the Road shows there is a little bit of Brent in most of us – anyone that is not quite where they hoped they would be in life, anyone with unfulfilled dreams – and that is why the movie ultimately connects.

Ricky Gervais’ David Brent movie delivers more or less everything his fans and those of The Office would have hoped for: it’s funny, painful to watch and, thanks to its final act, sympathetic.

David Brent: Life on the Road (15) is out August 19.

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