Tribeca Film Festival 2010: The Trotsky
Directed by Jacob Tierney
What a horrible mess The Trotsky might have been. Saddled with a dreadful-sounding high-concept premise (privileged high schooler thinks he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky), Jacob Tierney’s second feature manages, with the help of a charming cast and a relentless sense of non-cloying enjoyment, to turn what could have been a disaster into a pleasing and diverting rom-com with a cheery, particularly Canadian demeanor.
Apatow regular turned proper leading man Jay Baruchel stars as Leon Bernstein, the aforementioned protag who is convinces that his life will play out in precisely the same fashion as Trotsky’s did, right down to the details of his grisly death. His corporate boss father (a very good Saul Rubinek) decides to doom Leon to the realm of public school as punishment for Leon’s protest in support of his plant’s worker’s possibly-fledgling union, a decision that simply throws Leon further down the spiral thanks to his discovery of the school’s poorly organized and typically impotent student government. The bulk of the rest of the film involves his courting of the slightly older woman (Emily Hampshire) he has decided will become his wife and his head-butting with the school’s cartoonishly oppressive principal – played by, of course, Colm Feore.
The principal difficulty in making a story like this work is that the central contrivance is, of course, utterly preposterous and potentially irritating. The last thing the world needs is another patronizing “comedy,” teaching us that mental illness is fun and amusing and not at all depressing or unfortunate. Tierney avoids this pitfall entirely by more or less taking Leon’s obsession seriously, with the film’s universe bending over backwards to cow to Leon’s peculiar affliction. It’s a dicey stratedy that works most of the time thanks to Baruchel’s winning screen presence and the movie’s overall air of goodwill, but if you’ve any reservations about a film wherein a character of questionable mental fortitude is treated like a leftist Ferris Beuller instead of waking up tot he harsh light of day in a puddle of his own mess, consider yourself warned.
Being a high-concept comedy, some things don’t really work. Feore’s villain, while effectively sneering thanks to the veteran actor’s uniquely malevolant visage, never seems an adequate foe for the endlessly perseverant Leon, and the film’s generally airy take on political idealism does grow somewhat tiresome as we hit the home stretch. Given, however, the film’s remarkable victory over its built-in handicaps, perhaps moviegoers can let its faults slide.
– Simon Howell