I went to see Stardust on Thursday and despite having low expectations of it, loved it. Getting the balance of humour and fantasy right so that it doesn’t look like self-indulgent nonsense is tricky and I think they even just about managed to pull off Robert De Niro in a dress.
But one thing spoiled it for me: Ricky Gervais’ cameo. This was basically David Brent in a silly hat and stood out like a sore thumb. It reminded me of Paul Heiney’s cameo in 1985’s Water. Paul Heiney was a That’s Life presenter who made a series called In At the Deep End in which he had to do things he had no prior experience of (sort of an 80s version of Faking It). Somehow he got a small part in this small, rather rubbish British film and his performance – up against Michael Caine – is execrable. It has become embedded in my brain as an example of why film-makers should resist the temptation to include showy cameos in their films for the sake of a bit of extra publicity.
It has become increasingly clear that the reason The Office was so excruciatingly funny was that Gervais wasn’t acting. It was him – or at least scarily close to his true persona. Yet because he remains popular in the public imagination, and has lots of celebrity friends, he has somehow managed to build a years-long career doing the same basic schtick. How much longer is this going to go on?
I have horrible visions of him becoming the 21st century version of Leslie “hel-lo!” Phillips, turning up in films and TV programmes in his 70s to do his David Brent act so long as the fee was right. But while typecast, at least Phillips could act.