The Trotsky is a take on the notion that youngsters nowadays tend to be politically inactive and too unmotivated to try and change the structures and conditions they dislike. This state of affairs has become quite familiar – one might think that, for a high school student to get passionate about any politics or activism, it’d have to be some sort of an oddball who does not relate to the rest of them. This film, written and directed by Jacob Tierney, takes that idea to an amusing extreme.
The story, taking place in modern-day Montreal, centers on an eccentric young fellow named Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel), who firmly believes that he is the reincarnation of the Russian socialist Leon Trotsky. Delusion or truth? No one knows. One thing for certain, nothing can deter Leon from trying to orchestrate his life to resemble Trotsky’s as much as possible – he’s even mentally prepared for an assassination. He tries to mobilize the workers at his dad’s factory to achieve unionization by the means of a hunger strike, but he finds them to be inefficient at standing up to the management, and so his first attempt at a mini socialist revolution ends with the police dragging him away from the premises. His father (Saul Rubinek) puts up with his antics at first, though he soon becomes so fed up with them that he decides to stop supporting Leon’s private school education. Within the first afternoon at the public school, Leon gets on the wrong side of the sinister duo that is its principal and vice principal (Colm Feore and Domini Blythe) ““ his personal version of the tsarist regime. (Genevieve Bujold also appears as the sort of school district administrator that only Leon would think of messing with.) Thus begin the alleged Trotsky’s struggles to organize the apathetic student population to demand a new type of student union, one that wields power beyond organizing dances.
Jay Baruchel actually does a great job in this film, so don’t let that annoying NOW magazine cover deter you (yes, the one that says that he is “making geek chic”. Oh please! I’m pretty sure geek has been very chic for quite a while now.) He brings his acting a few notches above what we are used to getting from the Judd Apatow gang. In The Trotsky , Baruchel’s timing and delivery are great, aided by his skill in making amusing and evocative facial expressions, as well as a range of peculiar little gestures, tics, and mannerisms. He seems to have a lot of enthusiasm for playing Leon, and, for the most part, makes him sympathetic, and even somewhat believable, despite the unlikely personality. This film gave me more hope about his future acting efforts than his previous movies had. The writing is also done very well, giving Leon and the other characters lots of fun things to work with in the dialogue.
Another cool thing about this movie is the cast of young Canadian actors, who play the students at Leon’s public school (Ricky Mabe, Kaniehtiio Horn, and Jesse Rath as the shiftless student council members; Jesse Camacho as the victim of unfair detentions; Tommie Amber-Pirie as Leon’s unconditionally supportive sister, as well as others). Though they didn’t get too much screen time each, they come across as funny, charming, and, most notably, quite realistic. Some of them reminded me actual people I’ve met, which is more than I could say of even the better Hollywood movies about high school. Although they are on a different wavelength than Leon’s over-the-top personality, they don’t seem out of place in the film ““ in fact, they made one of the most enjoyable parts of the viewing experience.
The one factor that puts a big smirch on everything the film has going for it is what one would probably call the “romantic subplot”, though there was nothing particularly romantic about it. As it usually happens with the Nerd Hero’s Journey type of tale, the main character’s love interest is more agreeable, well-adjusted, and attractive than he is. I’d be more inclined to say “to each her own” if only the plotline in this film wasn’t so unsavoury. When Leon meets Alexandra, a beautiful 27-year-old graduate student (Emily Hampshire), he immediately decides that she’ll have to be his equivalent of Trotsky’s older first wife, who went by the same name. He tells her so within the first two seconds of meeting her, and then proceeds to pull the sort of stalkerish jerk behaviour that would make Edward Cullen seem like a pretty reasonable guy. Following Alexandra around and insisting that their love is “fate” despite her protests, breaking into her apartment, and asking her “How upset will your boyfriend be when you leave him for me?” is not off-limits to this guy. Alexandra’s enjoyably brash personality initially gives the audience some hope that she’ll reject Leon altogether, though, unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before she succumbs to his ridiculous pursuit. Seriously, this sort of behaviour needs to stop being romanticized. Oh well ““ let’s just hope that the next historical figure to reincarnate will be Susan B. Anthony.
If you are unfazed by this creepy, Woody Allen-esque type of bad romance, or find it easy to overlook, I suggest that you give this movie a try. Regardless of where you stand politically, there is quite a lot of energetic acting and hilarious quotes to enjoy.