Brand: A Second Coming | Movie review by Jay Richardson

Brand: A Second Coming

Movie review by Jay Richardson

Excess has been a recurring feature in Russell Brand's life. Yet so soon after Michael Winterbottom's The Emperor's New Clothes, is the world crying out for another documentary about the comedian-turned-political activist?

He seems to have his doubts if reports of him distancing himself from Brand: A Second Coming are to be taken at face value. That's odd though, because director Ondi Timoner doesn't allow herself much independent scrutiny of her subject, doing little to challenge the image Brand evoked in his 2013 stand-up show Messiah Complex, of an addictive, self-centred personality rejecting fame to inspire revolution.

Indeed, Timoner's only truly daring decision is to place him in a pantheon of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, which somehow feels a less persuasive argument than his own, knowing comparisons to Jesus, Gandhi, Che Guevara and Malcolm X.

Pretty much a straight biography, there's plenty that's familiar here - the sex, the drugs, the so-so movies, the brief marriage to Katy Perry and Sachsgate. On the latter, Timoner merely screens Brand's perspective from Messiah Complex, rather than probing him for fresh insight or examining the incident's broader cultural impact. She accepts that his Hollywood career has been abandoned in the pursuit of spiritual improvement, rather then addressing his waning box office draw.

Having revealed so much of himself on stage and screen previously, scenes of heroin-era Brand strung out don't shock as much as they might. But there's compelling footage of his early, socially-aware pranks for television; of cutting himself and baiting a late night crowd in Edinburgh; and an admission of torturing his childhood pet. Most psychologically interesting perhaps is an admission of ruthlessness, of leaving people behind as he compartmentalises the various chapters of his life.

Unfortunately, the scenes of his engagement with the Occupy movement and return to his hometown of Grays in Essex have had their thunder well and truly stolen by Winterbottom's film. And Brand's interviews with the likes of Oliver Stone, David Lynch and Mike Tyson, culled from another, long-abandoned documentary called Happiness, are inexplicable in their inclusion – who cares what Tyson thinks about wealth distribution?

Whether coming face-to-face with the direst poverty in Africa or setting up his news analysis site The Trews, Brand comes across as compassionate and genuine about tackling inequality, demonstrating the common touch even while acknowledging the restless narcissism that also motivates him. His garbled proclamations about overthrowing capitalism are scant on specifics but accepted at face value by Timoner, without any inquiry into the details.

Still, the film has secured tremendous access to those closest to Brand and some of the most instructive scenes feature his divorced parents, the caring and egotistical sides of his personality very much split between the influence of his mother and father respectively. His ex-girlfriend, agents and former colleagues attest to his demons, while Stephen Merchant and Simon Amstell prod at the contradictions in his champagne socialism and the motivations behind his writing.

Yet the funniest and most penetrating contributions come from Noel Gallagher. Perhaps if he'd been in charge of the film, which has been through multiple directors, it would have been a lot pithier, instead of subscribing so submissively to Brand's endearing but grandiloquent waffle.

• Brand: A Second Coming is on released from today.

Review date: 23 Oct 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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