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segunda-feira, 2 de novembro de 2015

Brand: A Second Coming, review: 'pretty unbearable'

Ondi Timoner's new documentary about the actor, comedian and political activist Russell Brand suffers from a lack of critical distance, says Robbie Collin
The thing about Russell Brand is that it’s quite hard to work out exactly what he’s for. And not just in terms of what he believes in – though puzzling that out presents its own set of challenges – but in the very broadest functional sense, like a ladle is for serving soup. 
Until recently, Brand was a comedian and film star who had overcome problems with substance abuse, and was enjoying all the trappings of show-business success. But in 2012 or thereabouts, things changed. First his shows took on a certain messianic flavour – his 2013 tour covered the teachings of Christ, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Che Guevara. Then he repositioned himself as an activist and “social commentator”, calling for the overthrow of capitalism via his YouTube channel, and sometimes the fun bit on Newsnight. 
This biographical documentary, directed by Ondi Timoner, attempts to make sense of exactly what Brand has become in the context of his own haphazard life and career. The problem is that her subject already thinks he knows the answer, and imposes it on the film at every given opportunity. 
According to Brand, it’s straightforward: he climbed the ladder from outcast to A-list, discovered at the top that inner peace, rather than wealth or fame, is the secret to happiness, then slid back down to help the rest of us out. And Timoner’s film is good on the ascent. With the help of archive footage and interviews with family and friends, she kneads Brand’s pre-fame life into a compelling shape. 
The film takes in his relationships with both of his parents (each one strained for very different reasons), his addictions, and some unsettling early stand-up performances. His hunger for fame and the various escape routes it opens up makes perfect sense.
But enlightenment itself – from the outside, at least – turns out to be pretty unbearable. The film doesn’t ever unpack what Brand says he stands for, or how that might be either of benefit to or at variance with the real world. Instead, we just follow him from one engagement to the next: lots of gliding around in limousines while pronouncing on the evils of inequality, and an occasional chin-wag about the pressing issues of the day with another celebrity. (We get about five minutes on the redistribution of wealth with that noted economic thinker Mike Tyson.)
Timoner must know how bad some of this stuff looks: her best film, the excellent rock documentary Dig!, had a wincingly sardonic edge. But here, she just can’t seem to establish any sense of distance between her camera and subject. A sequence in which we watch Brand buying up office space in central London to house a proposed string of social enterprise schemes is accompanied by rosy acoustic guitar-strumming – probably the very music that was running through Brand’s head as he did it. 
Worse still, his political influence and nous are both taken as read. We get lots on his extensive anti-Tory agitating before the General Election, but no mention that it was followed by a Conservative majority government. The disobliging reviews for Revolution, his 350-page political tract, meanwhile, are characterised as the fury of a vengeful Establishment, rather than honest reactions to a half-baked rush-job (it was written in two months) that was about as readable as hamster bedding.
The end credits reveal that parts of Brand: A Second Coming were salvaged by Timoner from an earlier, abandoned project called Happiness, which perhaps explains why the film never quite feels like it’s standing on his own two feet. You’re left with the sense that Brand might yet be the subject of a great documentary, but he’d probably have to be on the other side of the planet while it was being made.

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