This doc about Essex’s manky mockney messiah comes laden with baggage: Russell Brand distanced himself from the film earlier this year, having allowed its makers access to his life, friends and family. Which means we hear Brand’s mum remembering how her son once declared himself to be the new Jesus (‘That’s not a normal thing to say, is it?’) and his dad recalling how he introduced his teen progeny to prostitutes in Hong Kong (‘I wanted to make a man of him’).
Director Ondi Timoner’s lively, revealing film also had its thunder stolen a few months back by Michael Winterbottom’s manifesto doc ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, which offered a soapbox to the ever-more-politicised Brand in the run-up to the general election. So there’s a niggling feeling of retread when, for example, Brand returns to his nondescript Essex hometown of Grays or is seen getting involved with jokey direct action.
Still, among much that’s familiar (Sachsgate; the Newsnight showdown with Jeremy Paxman; the drugs; the sex; the loudhailer moments; the endless thesaurus mangling), there are some strong insights and very funny moments (not least an early stunt involving Brand pretending to be the Elephant Man on the concourse of a London railway station). Partly, Timoner’s film is a straight biography, running through Brand’s childhood, his early desire to be famous, his later desire to be famous and his continuing desire to be famous, whether as an actor, comic, prankster, broadcaster, activist or all five at once.
The film presents ample archive material (this is a man happy to be filmed, even when smoking crack) alongside new interviews with the likes of Noel Gallagher, who laughs off his friend’s call for revolution – ‘unless he makes me the Duke of Manchester’. It’s an endearing if exasperated, portrait. But Timoner refuses to run fully with Brand’s elevated idea of himself, preferring to offer glimpses of a vulnerability and ruthlessness behind the clownish bluster.