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Categories: Movie Reviews

Cameron Johnson reviews Ondi Timoner’s Russell Brand doc “Brand: A Second Coming”, which follows the comedian’s ascent from actor to political icon.

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Going into Brand: A Second Coming, I was a massive Russell Brand fan, not just as an actor and comedian, but as a political icon as well. I had seen his famous interview with Jeremy Paxman, followed his YouTube series The Trews, and used him as my main conduit for 2015 election analysis. Coming out of the film, I’m not quite as sure of my appreciation. If anything, Ondi Timoner’s doc manages to paint Brand in a light that speaks to just how divisive a character he is.

A Second Coming follows Brand from his days as a cheeky schoolboy comedian to his ascent to international stardom and his recent taking to political activism. The main focus is on Brand’s personal ideology and spiritual growth, with thematic focus on his wish to be a great revolutionary along the lines of Gandhi, Malcolm X or Jesus. The comparisons to the latter are constant, with the opening of the doc showing a bit from Brand’s 2013 stand-up tour The Messiah Complex in which he rips on the hypocrisy of the religious right with his signature abrasive vulgarity.

In forming an explanation of Brand’s self-professed narcissism and egotism, A Second Coming reaches back into his life, with Timoner having Brand himself visit his child home and school, interviewing Brand’s parents, colleagues, and friends, and selecting clips of notable events in the comedian’s public life, most of them well-known interviews. There’s a little bit about his drug addiction, a touch or two on his rampant sex life, a few minutes about his marriage to Katy Perry, and a short snippet about the Sachsgate prank call scandal that saw Brand and Jonathan Ross suspended from the BBC.

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In attempting to make this full sweep of Brand’s life, the film doesn’t really seem to get down to anything juicy or revealing until much later on, with only a few shocks here and there. This might only be a problem for me personally, since I had already seen most of the clips used in the film, read some of Brand’s political writings, and known a lot of his backstory already. For people not quite as in-the-know about Brand, this will surely be an eye-opener, but those that have been following him for years won’t be getting a lot of new material.

Nevertheless, Brand himself is entertaining enough that even when the material is familiar, it’s still quite enjoyable. He’s an honest, self-deprecating and incredibly witty character who can make even the most uncomfortable topics hilarious – and even the most hilarious topics uncomfortable. That is to say, if you can handle his brash, ostentatious, sometimes tasteless sense of humor already, you’ll have no problem having a good time with A Second Coming, but if you didn’t like him to begin with, this will only reinforce your disdain.

The doc builds to a final act that delves deep into Brand’s political ambitions following his internet-breaking call for a “revolution” a few years ago. The definitive twist of the film centers on a charity trip Brand took to Africa, which he himself admits was only because he thought it’d make him look good. This trip, in which Brand witnessed children foraging for food next to wild animals in a rubbish dump, radicalized Brand’s liberal outlook, and in the film is a powerful driving point for Brand’s great contradiction: that in all his self-centered celebrity hedonism, he’s also entirely selfless, calling for people to come together and take back the power the people at the top have been holding from them.

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Whether or not you agree with Brand’s politics may affect your appreciation of these final sequences, but personally, as someone who has listened closely and seriously to Brand in the past, I think I’m not quite as enthusiastic in my appreciation of him as I was before. That’s not to say the film did a bad job in that regard; on the contrary, it’s successful in revealing just how full of himself Brand really is, which is perhaps why he himself has been so vocally negative about the film, despite featuring in it.

Brand: A Second Coming runs in at 104 minutes long, and they are, for a Brand fan at least, an entertaining 104 minutes. I only wish the film, which takes a while to get into a real thematic focus, had gone a bit deeper into Brand’s character. Much of it feels very surface-level, but maybe that’s Russell Brand, anyway.

Brand: A Second Coming is out now in select cinemas. 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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