By Samantha J. Grasso
As I stood in line, thumbing through the latest copy of "The Austin Chronicle" to bide my time before the film, "BRAND: A Second Coming," I thought about the first time I had actually heard the name, “Russell Brand.” I was just shy of 14, glued to the television for the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. I waited anxiously for a favorite celebrity to pop out from behind backstage, but was surprised to watch a man in tight, black clothes waltz out into the arena.
His eyes were lined in thin kohl, his neck and hands donned the trappings of an eccentric fashionisto and his hair was blown out into a dramatic rat's nest haircut sported by scene kids at the time (see: Your Scene Sucks “Screamolestor”). Brand’s accent was alluring, but his jokes were bad, and seemingly much too political or sexual for me.
In “BRAND: A Second Coming,” a documentary directed by Ondi Timoner about Brand’s struggle with addiction, fame and his current endeavor to start a revolution, comedian Rosie O’Donnell shares a similar sentiment on becoming aware of Brand’s existence at the MTV VMA Awards: who the hell is this guy? In production since 2007 and having gone through the hands of six different directors, “BRAND: A Second Coming,” offers an in-depth look at the struggles of Brand, giving American audiences a larger take on the comedian-turned-activist’s accomplishments and goals outside his notorious label of “Katy Perry’s ex-husband.”
Brand continues to struggle with his sex and drug addictions
Through watching this film, it's clear that Brand developed his addictions early-on in his life. After his mother was diagnosed with cancer at the end of his teen years, Brand moved from his home in Grays, England to London, and used his earnings in the city for drugs. We see footage of him at a protest, jumping onto a police van and stripping down naked before being thrown to the ground in a drug-induced fit, and sitting in a corner, heating heroin on a piece of tin foil, eyes glazed moments later. In an interview, Brand’s father says he wanted Brand to be a man, and took him to see prostitutes in Hong Kong, China when he was a teenager. Though Brand has received rehabilitation for both addictions, the film chronicles his struggle with the substances. When he meets a group of women after the show and they invite him to hang back, he declines, saying, “I’m not afraid of you, I’m afraid of me.” While Brand is 12 years sober, he speaks about how he longs for the feeling of being on heroine, and how even just looking at tin foil will make him want to smoke it. Though his struggles are still present, Brand says daily meditation puts him at ease and puts him back in control.
Adam Sandler brought Brand to Hollywood
In the film, we see a clip of Brand interviewing Sandler on one of his former television series. However, Brand runs away with the interview, hardly letting Sandler get a word in edgewise. Despite being shut out, Sandler found Brand funny, and from there introduced him to Judd Apatow, producer of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Shortly after, Sandler put Brand in his movie, “Bedtime Stories.” It was on the set of filming of 2010’s “Get Him to the Greek,” where Brand met Perry.
Fame is what killed Brand’s marriage to Perry
In the film, we see a scene of Brand visiting Africa to film a commercial for activism, and as he sorts through trash yards with kids, looking for items of possible value to sell, he has a revelation about poverty. He ponders on how we could have this extreme level of poverty on one side of the earth, while on the other side he goes to million-dollar fashion shows with his wife, Perry. While Brand attempts to try and live a more humble life, we see an interview between Brand and Perry where Brand makes a point to show Perry isn’t ready to give up a lavish lifestyle. Cue more clips of Brand attending more upscale events and fending off paparazzi with his wife, seemingly unhappy though it all. We see Brand’s frustrations with his life still being associated with his former marriage to Perry when a little girl in the streets of Essex sing-songingly teases him about it. “It’s what adults do, adults get married,” Brand dramatically retorts. “One day you’ll be an adult, and then you can get married to Katy Perry, and so a kid can come up to you about it.”
Despite his lack of recent Hollywood appearances, Brand still exists
In a weird twist of fate, Brand is now a revolutionary — sort of. He’s gone on to use his fame as a platform for political and social change. Through the second half of the movie, we see Brand supporting Occupy movements, developing his 2013 comedy tour, “Messiah Complex,” in which he discussed political and social figures such as Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi, and starting his YouTube series, “The Trews,” where Brand records videos of him dismantling news from mainstream media outlets such as Fox News. His 2014 book “Revolution,” though poorly received by critics, serves as a call to arms for a social revolution to end corporate and governmental tyranny. Brand also serves as an advocate for changing drug use laws, and focuses on framing drug addiction as a mental illness over a crime.
And yet, people still don’t take him seriously
Throughout the film, we see multiple interview clips where Brand’s legitimacy is questioned by his background as a comedian and actor. Even as a former drug addict, his position on drug use laws is dismissed. In a clip of an interview on “Morning Joe,” Brand tears into the newscasters who continue to focus on his appearance and his reputation over the message he wants to send with his tour, “Messiah Complex.” The scene is hilarious and, as a journalist, completely devastating to watch as Brand turns the interview around and begins to do the anchors’ jobs for them. Fox News, in particular, takes issue with Brand’s “Trews,” videos, and over a series of clips the two entities duke out the “he said, we said” allegations in what ends up being a media war left for the internet to eagerly absorb. In addition, the film focuses on the negative publicity of Brand’s book, “Revolution,” and the many critics taking the position that Brand has no idea what he’s talking about. Though his opposition tries to take away his agency, we are left with powerful scenes of Brand in action: he's riding his bike around the streets of London, donating sleeping bags to street protestors and taping mock eviction notices to the doors of Westbrook investors.