The story of the comedian’s path to politics portrays a confused man at odds with himself
Whatever you think of Russell Brand – vital political revolutionary, confusing egotist with ready access to a thesaurus, or somewhere in between – there is usually something at the centre of whatever he’s saying that is worth considering, or at least questioning. What’s not always clear is why he’s saying it or what he hopes it will achieve, which is largely what this film is attempting to iron out. Who is Russell Brand and what does he want?
Director Ondi Timoner spends a lot of time telling Brand’s life-story, taking him back to his hometown in Essex, talking to his parents, tracking his sex and drugs years. All this feels like PR fluff rather than documentary, allowing Brand to define his own history unchallenged, with talking-head interjections from people who like him (notably a sarcastic Noel Gallagher and Katy Perry who says she has “all the real power because I control the pussy”). It’s only when Brand decides he’s to be the figurehead of world political change – in 2009 when he began writing to newspapers and attended G-20 protests in London – that things get interesting, because we get to see how his thought process works in real time. He can’t re-frame it as it’s happening.
At this stage Timoner, who joined the project as director when much of the earlier footage was already shot, just watches Brand without prejudice. She allows him his moments of grandstanding but doesn’t look away when he makes a fool of himself, such as when he lays out his belief in a world free of material greed, pausing briefly to point out his new gold gunlamp. He’s full of these contradictions, seeming essentially well-intentioned but always butting up against his desire to be more famous than everyone else. He wants a world in which everybody is equal, but to be worshipped for creating it.
There’s a very telling moment when Brand tries to explain his newfound idealism to film director Oliver Stone. He details hisplan to devote himself to “purity of consciousness, passion, love, duty, revolution and change”, though only after he’s become the most famous man in the world. So Stone asks, “OK, so what’s the ideology?” Brand doesn’t have an answer. The picture is of a man desperate to be remembered as a leader even if he’s not sure where he’s going.
Stars: Russell Brand, Noel Gallagher, Katy Perry