Branded (2012) – Directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn – Starring Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, Max von Sydow, Jeffrey Tambor, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Rachel Davies.
BRANDED is a massively stupid fucking movie.
When I saw the trailer for BRANDED in the theater, I laughed and said, aloud, “That is the dumbest trailer I have ever seen.” It’s an incredibly rude and cheap thing to do, but sometimes I’m rude and cheap. In hindsight, I should have been glad that the trailer made the movie look so ridiculous and dumb because at least it was truth in advertising.
At the end of the day (hell, at the start of the day and in the middle of the day), BRANDED is just a bad movie and people put their talents and time into it, and they maybe don’t deserve to have someone use their work to line up a series of cheap shots. This appears to be an honest attempt at doing something different and I applaud that. I applaud that wholeheartedly, but attempts are not results, and the result of all this talent and time and hard work is a really stupid fucking movie.
Filmmakers Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn have something to say, and good for them. At its core, BRANDED is a movie about how we have become manipulated by marketing into liking certain things, including things that are bad for us, like fast food. Cynically, the film suggests the way out of this current state is for us to be manipulated by different marketers to socially engineer society to a better place, which is to say, by Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard), who can see brands as living things.
If you’ve seen BRANDED (or its trailer), you might think my labeling of the movie as stupid has to do with Misha seeing these weird cartoon creatures as the living embodiment of corporations.
You’d be wrong.
It’s in those moments where the film has something to say, and it says it in a silly and immature way, but at least it’s saying something. It’s an inspired but of lunacy that I can get behind. Sure, the resolution of banning all advertising is every bit as dumb as Bulworth’s assertion that the way to end racism is for everybody to fuck so much we all end up looking alike, but at least there’s something.
Before that, unfortunately, is the bulk of the movie, and it’s plagued not by worm-like cartoonifications of The Burger (that is, McDonalds), but by inconsistent characterizations, silly dialogue, sillier story points, and a general lack of being interesting.
As a child, Misha is struck by lightning and we see a cow constellation come to life in the night sky. As an adult, he wants to make money, and the cow narrates his life story. We don’t know it’s the cow doing the narrating until the end, which is too bad, because the cow talking to us is actually the most consistent character in the film. The filmmakers use the narration device to be able to jump ahead in the story, which is important to know, because no one ever looks any different, even if eight years have passed.
BRANDED has a highly talented cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Leelee Sobieski, Max Von Sydow, and Ed Stoppard do their best to bring the film to life, but there’s only so much actors can do to save a ham-fisted script.
It’s inconsistent characterizations that drive me the most batty – is Misha supposed to be a knight, a jerk, a hero, a victim … it’s possible to be all of these things, of course, but there’s no cohesion to when he jumps from one version of himself to another. The same problems plague Abby (Sobieski), who is whatever the film wants her to be in a given moment and not what the character suggests she should be based on past actions. It’s painful to watch. Sobieski is both a good actress and has an engaging screen presence (in a perfect world, she’d have a hit TV show), but the filmmakers don’t help her bring this character to life. It’s like the only thought given to the creation of this character is that she does what the film needs her to do to get Misha where it wants to put him. The film needs Misha to have a crisis of confidence, so Abby hooks him into co-producing a reality show with her that goes poorly. The film needs him to go away and become a shepherd, so they arrange for Abby to have to go away, thus ending their relationship. The film needs him to come back to Moscow so they have Abby go looking for him and randomly run across his path in the middle of nowhere.
There are moments that seem like they’re inspired lunacy, but too often, these “weird” moments feel every bit as calculated as the marketers and advertising the film is railing against.
I’m glad BRANDED exists because I like the existence of anything that doesn’t look like anything else, but this is simply not a very good movie. In fact, it’s a pretty stupid movie. Maybe if the filmmakers had started from the point where Misha can see the cartoonifications and focused on his “war of the brands,” the film could have really been something interesting.
But as is, it’s just not.