It was Katy Perry’s rising fame that killed her marriage to Russell Brand—according to a new documentary so painfully penetrating it made the unabashed attention hound cancel his trip to SXSW.
Alternately overly flattering and incisive, BRAND: A Second Coming chronicles the flamboyant Brit’s relentless knack for reinvention, from drug addict to sex addict to stand-up comedian to Hollywood actor to political provocateur.
Among the film’s touchier subjects: His short-lived marriage to Perry, which lasted just over a year after the couple tied the knot in India.
Technically speaking, Perry was the first to put their split on blast on film—sobbing onscreen in her 2012 concert tour doc Katy Perry: Part Of Me, she blamed the break-up on that classic enemy of every Hollywood relationship: conflicting schedules.
BRAND points the finger, with a subtle dash of shade, on her failure to match his quest to make the world a better place.
The documentary seven years in the making tracks Brand’s life from Essex mama’s boy to the tortured aspiring comedian whose career was nearly derailed by a nasty heroin habit. After getting off drugs and achieving notoriety in his native UK, Brand set his sights on Hollywood, got America’s attention by hosting the MTV VMAs, and started landing movie roles. In 2010 he scored the next feather in his hipster Jesus fedora: A celebrity marriage to the fairytale princess of bubblegum pop, the California Gurl herself: Katy Perry.
But just as Perry’s career was exploding, Brand became restless from the rapid, vapid crossover fame he’d finally achieved. In a scene straight out of an Aldous Snow music video, he went to Africa on a charity trip to ease his jaded soul and experienced a life-changing epiphany.
After watching young Kenyan children sift through heaps of syringe-laden garbage for recyclables, he flew back to his Hollywood millionaire existence where the juxtaposition hit home, he says.
Brand started plugging into the 2011 Occupy movement. In a scene in BRAND, he visits protesters sans Perry while on break from filming his studio romantic comedy Arthur. Then the comedian, who at one point tried to direct the documentary himself, sits with his wife in their home for an interview that goes south.
Struggling to answer Brand’s query about the existential pickle of money and fame, Perry demurs. “I think you’re a genius and you make me look good, and that’s why I picked you,” she chirps. (If any single sound bite goes viral from this film, it might well be Perry declaring, “I control the pussy” to the camera in a baby voice as she abruptly ends the interview.)
Following their split, a deflated Brand ponders why the marriage failed. “We were going in different directions,” he sighs. “Possibly opposite directions.”
“It was a real crisis—at one point Russell was really uncomfortable with it ever even playing here,” Timoner revealed at the post-screening Q&A, where she described the making of BRAND as “a roller coaster ride” and admitted to making some edits at Brand’s request “for ethical reasons,” despite having final cut.
Brand tapped the Dig! and We Live In Public filmmaker to direct the project after it originated with the late Albert Maysles and Oliver Stone, who appears on camera along with Brand supporters Mike Tyson, David Lynch, Rosie O’Donnell, and Noel Gallagher. The wide-ranging doc careens through Brand’s four decades of personal struggle, addiction, self-destructive spirals, spiritual resurrection, career ascendance, and family relationships with (mostly) adulation, while an off-screen Timoner includes herself in a few scenes, battling to draw out her subject.
She also spends a ton of screen time on Brand’s recent metamorphosis into a political ideologue who tsk-tsks big media on YouTube, destroyed MSNBC’s “shark-eyed Stepford berks” on live TV, and went viral by scrapping with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman. It’s not hard to see the new radicalism, slammed by critics of his 2014 book Revolution, as the latest stage of Brand’s paradoxical pursuit of celebrity.
Friday afternoon, Brand shocked Timoner and festival organizers by bailing last-minute on the film’s premiere in Austin, Texas, where he was also slated to give a keynote speech.
“You’d think a narcissist would like nothing more than talking about themselves and their ‘rags to riches’, ‘hard luck’ story but actually, it felt like, to me, my life was hard enough the first time round and going through it again was painful and sad,” Brand wrote in a statement hours before the high-profile opening night gala.
“Obviously, he’s not here [at SXSW],” said Timoner. “It’s not like I drank the Kool-Aid. I think I have a pretty clear perspective on who he is and I have a lot of respect for him, but I obviously see all his foibles.”