Given how much of a divisive figure her eponymous subject is, it’s tough not to enter in to Ondi Timoner’s new documentary without having already formed some sort of pre-conceived judgment. For though Russell Brand’s recent career has seen him change track to focus on being a campaigner & activist fighting against financial inequality, the controversial comedian continues to be primarily recognised by many as a roguish lothario; with an aura that’s part rampant misogynist, part crude egotist, and an appearance that could most appropriately be described as quasi-gothic.
Certainly, during the fitful first-act of Brand: A Second Coming, it’s tough to shake-off such negative preconceptions, as we watch the contentious comic almost gleefully chart his troubled youth, which saw him struggle with both substance & sexual addiction. And court serious controversy through the Sachsgate scandal & his dismissal from MTV – tragic echos of Asif Kapadia’s Amy to be heard within the destructive drugs-fuelled cosmos.
Once Brand heads off to Hollywood, however, Timoner’s documentary develops into a defiantly damning deconstruction of fame’s dark heart. Utilising a stylish blend of achieve footage and talking-head testimony, wrestled into one succinct whole by the superb editing team, the Dig! director depicts Brand’s burgeoning celebrity as a sad and empty existence, described as “vapid, vacuous, plastic, constructed, [and] mindless” by the man himself.
Timoner ensures a poppy pace thanks to the amusing anecdotes of Noel Gallagher and Jonathan Ross, amongst others. But, more significantly, there’s a striking sadness to her study of Brand’s self-absorbed stardom; a muted melancholy in his decision to initially promote the Comic Relief cause for his own vain gain, and realisation that despite his love for her, his marriage to Katy Perry only trapped him further in a life he despised. Throughout, Russell remains an effortlessly engaging presence, transcending his nefariously narcissistic image through a candid humour and honesty that makes his subsequent rejection of the film all the more perplexing.
As Brand begins to leave his film career behind to focus his attentions on social activism, Timoner starts struggling to articulate herself with as much conviction as her subject. An occasionally floundering final-third confidently chronicles the stand-up’s determination to lead a spiritual revolution against politically-enforced austerity, but is inconclusively hesitant in determining how much he’s liable to actually accomplish. One thing’s for sure though, while he may not be the Messiah, he’s so much more than just a naughty boy.
Director: Ondi Timoner
Writer: Ondi Timoner
Stars: Simon Amstell, Andrew Antonio, Barbara Brand
Runtime: 100 mins
Country: UK, USA
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