Like pretty much whoever saw it, after watching original British version of The Office, I was convinced that Ricky Gervais was a comic genius. Then, his follow up series Extras showed up, as well as his podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show. All of a sudden, his Office co-creator and co-director, Stephen Merchant was a lot more involved in front of the camera and microphone, and I realised just how important his comic sensibility was in making The Office what it was.
In the years since, Gervais has made plenty of good things, but he’s also made some real shit. In the years since, Merchant has been seemingly more selective and has a better strike to show for it. A strike rate that includes his unfairly underseen TV series, Hello Ladies. And while it sucks that it was cancelled after one season, it at least got enough time to put a bow in its characters, themes and story arcs, with Hello Ladies: The Movie.
Merchant is Stuart, a gangly awkward Brit, living in LA and working as a software engineer, but determined to live the high life of the glamourous models and stars who seemingly fill the city. Living in his pool house is frustrated actor, Jessica (Christine Woods). It’s her 30th birthday, and with her biggest acting prospect being an audition for a yoghurt commercial, while her agent/boyfriend Glenn (Sean Wing) refuses to make their relationship official, Jessica starts to reevaluate her own hopes and dreams.
When Stuart receives a phone call from an old flame in England who is coming out for a visit, his desperation to find a beautiful girlfriend is ramped up to another gear. With Glenn’s help, Stuart ends up at a yacht party hosted by slime ball Alan (Stephen Tobolowski) and meets a model willing to at least pretend to be his girlfriend. But when the full story of Stuart’s British breakup is revealed, and as Jessica takes stock of her life, the two realise happiness may have been attainable all along, they were both just looking in the wrong direction.
Like The Office and Extras before it, Hello Ladies the series always had a knack for combining broad, awkward comedy, while capping things off with small moments of real heart, and the odd instance of genuine tragedy. And it’s that format that Hello Ladies: The Movie follows to the letter. It also does it in a way that means you could watch this movie, with no knowledge of the series that preceded it, and never skip a beat.
The first act establishes all of the key characters in a way that fully explains them to new comers, while never feeling like a retread for returning fans. Which comes down to the chemistry between the key characters. Stuart and Jessica, as well as Stuart’s recently divorced friend Wade (Nate Torrence) and wheelchair bound insult factory Kives (Kevin Weisman) all gel so well, that just watching them hang out is entertaining enough. Add to that a story that takes these people and their lives seriously, while packing in plenty of gags, and Hello Ladies: The Movie is a great conclusion to the TV show, and a great, standalone romantic comedy.
While Merchant makes stuff like this, and Gervais seems to rely more and more on his worst and most annoying tendencies, it has me really worried about the return of The Office’s David Brent character in Life on the Road. With Gervais getting sole writing and directing credit, and Merchant’s name nowhere to be see on the movie’s IMDB page, I just don’t see any way that it could live up to the legacy of The Office.