Review: Russell Brand’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ advocates with fun and wit

Russel Brand in Michael Winterbottom's "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Russel Brand in Michael Winterbottom’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

(Studiocanal / Revolution Films)

In Michael Winterbottom and Russell Brand’s documentary, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the Hans Christian Andersen classic becomes an allegory for economic injustice: It proposes that the weavers from the bedtime story are analogous to today’s bankers, bond dealers, traders and hedge-fund managers.

Touching on income inequality, trillion-dollar bailouts, billion-dollar bonuses, insider trading, privatization of public housing and social services, quantitative easing, student debt, outsourcing, et al., the film lays out its case against free-market fundamentalism with facts, common sense, humor, heart and adorable primary school kids instead of tiresome rhetoric. Advocacy documentaries simply don’t get better or more compelling than this.

Having adopted cinema verité as his signature style for dramatic filmmaking, Winterbottom has fashioned a documentary that is anything but. He’s layered and scrambled archival news footage to stylish effect. Brand’s monologues and antics in the film drew inspiration from sketch comedy, which he co-opted as performance art in public spaces to create spectacles.


Even if you never understood what Katy Perry saw in him, Brand makes his appeal abundantly clear here. He’s witty, articulate, informed, passionate and charming; his earlier films haven’t done him justice. When he has the humility to own the fact that he’s in the very 1% he’s revolting against, who’s to argue?


“The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood. Also on VOD.