London Film Festival Review: ‘Brand: A Second Coming’

By Matthew Rodgers
Matthew Rodgers
Matthew Rodgers
October 12, 2015 Updated: October 12, 2015

Having failed to successfully instigate a revolution, Ondi Timoner’s Russell Brand retrospective aims to peer behind the faux Victorian veneer. It’s timely, because Brand has just abandoned his social media accounts and skipped away from YouTube show “The Trews”, seemingly having taken the predictable backlash quite personally. Who is it for, you might ask, and more pertinently, does anybody care?

To anyone familiar with Brand’s back-story, the first half of the documentary is something of a “Bookywook” (the comedian’s fantastic 2007 autobiography) retread; growing up in Grays, Essex, his ill-fated acting school stint, and his fractured family life, all facilitating his much publicised heroin addiction.

Timoner has unearthed some great archive footage, from a narcissistic Edinburgh Festival performance that ends in a hospital visit, to excerpts of shows that were never meant to make it to air. They were simply a way for Brand’s manager, John Noel, to give him £600 to make something, just so it would keep the hyperactive comic away from the production offices.

Noel is one of a number of talking head contributors who help to establish a tone of deprecation throughout. Another Noel, this time former Oasis man Noel Gallagher, offers up hilarious insights that will resonate with anyone who has never been able to look beyond the façade of the comedian, or scoffed at his involvement in the general election debates. He does the same with an anecdote about Brand’s marriage to Katy Perry.

This isn’t a film about scandals or National Enquirer headlines

Her presence is felt in the doc’s narrative, as it seems she played an important part in his enlightenment, for better or worse. There are some intriguing snippets of an interview between the two, and Brand still talks affectionately about her. This isn’t a film about scandals or National Enquirer headlines though, Timoner presenting a portrait of the man with all of his contradictions front and centre, and letting the audience cast their vote on him.

Punctuated by clips from his stand-up shows, most notably “The Messiah Complex” (arguably his least successful routine), the doc moves into gear in the second half. Brand’s interviews become more self-analytical, addressing the frivolity of the fame he sought from a young age (ad-libbing during a school performance of “Bugsy Malone”), and the Comic Relief trip to Africa that became a catalyst for changes in his life. It’s eye-opening for anyone conditioned to Brand’s tabloid flash-bulbs and “dolly-bird” representation, but they’re the exact people who will dismiss this as another slice of sycophancy for an egotistical star.

For that reason, “A Second Coming” will be a hard sell. Despite its strengths in presenting this unique talent as more than a haircut and a divorce, and the genuine belly-laughs you’ll get from the material, it doesn’t really have much of a point.

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