Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Make You Fight With Your Friends About Whether Russell Brand’s Really Worth All The Fuss:



Brand: A Second Coming, dir. Ondi Timoner

Reviewed by: Steph Harmon

My position on Russell Brand is ambivalent at best. I admire any rich and famous well-meaner who uses his celebrity for the good of society, and appreciate that through his books, TV spots and daily Trews episodes, Brand has got the disengaged and disenfranchised talking about real structural problems. But Brand’s “global revolution of consciousness” manifesto seems half-baked at best, and his rhetoric teeters towards the hypocritical, the tone-deaf and the occasionally dangerous: like that time he encouraged the British population not to vote, right before the conservatives won the 2015 election.

If she wanted to change my mind about Brand, film-maker Ondi Timoner (Dig!; We Live In Public) had a mighty big task ahead of her. But in giving her subject plenty of space to prove himself as his own worst critic, she came very close to succeeding.

Brand: A Second Coming offers an unvarnished (although sympathetic) portrayal of Brand’s singular and single-minded journey from working-class comic, to pop celebrity, to aspirant revolutionary. Melding archival footage documenting his drug- and sex-addicted past with stand-up snippets and candid interviews with Brand, his family and his friends, A Second Coming is at its worst a fascinating portrayal of a complicated but captivating celebrity — and at its best an exegesis on how much narcissism a person needs to think they can change the world. Russell Brand didn’t name his 2014 comedy tour ‘Messiah Complex’ for nothing.

The film initially began as a documentary on happiness produced by Brand himself: a series of interviews with his celebrity friends – Mike Tyson, David Lynch, his then-wife Katy Perry – about what gave them spiritual fulfillment. Some of that footage makes it into Brand: A Second Coming, but when she took control (as the sixth director to join the project), Timoner changed the focus: the real story here wasn’t about happiness, but about the kind of celebrity who becomes fascinated with it. She wrested creative control from Brand – a tension that becomes apparent as the documentary progresses, and which infamously left Brand a little less comfortable with the final result – and began filming just in time to witness yet another reinvention: from Brand the Spiritual, to Brand the Saviour. He left America for a comedy tour, decided to start a revolution, and never returned.

“Do you think someone like Russell Brand could overthrow the government?” Timoner asks Jeremy Paxman in the film’s opening seequence. The answer, echoed throughout by talking heads including Matt Morgan, Jonathan Ross and the film’s hilarious break-out star Noel Gallagher, is a resounding ‘No’. But while he may not have the answers, an endlessly driven, self-aware and accessible progressive commentator like Brand could be the right person to ask the hardest questions.

For fans of: Russell Brand, Dig!, visionaries, tight pants and progressive politics

Opening in Australia: TBC

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