New Video // 2010 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // December 30th, 2010
The revolution begins in high school.
An irreverent teenage comedy of social justice and revolution, The Trotsky is that unique Canadian film that actually deserves (and is slowly receiving) recognition outside of the frozen wastes of the Great White North. Want to see Jay Baruchel as the living reincarnation of Leon Trotsky trying to unionize his high school and fight fascism? Then you've come to the right place, comrade.
Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel, The Sorcerer's Apprentice) is your normal, everyday Canadian teenager -- he just happens to be the living reincarnation of social theorist and revolutionist Leon Trotsky. At least, he thinks he is.
Turning a part-time job from his father (Saul Rubinek, Warehouse 13) at a clothing factory into a sit-down hunger strike, he is punished by his father by being removed from his fancy boarding school, where people were tolerant of his eccentricities, and placed into public school. However, Trotsky himself went to public school, so it's okay -- just part of the plan.
Now just a humble high school student looking for revolution, he soon finds a new way to fight fascism, by way of Principal Berkhoff (Colm Feore, 24) and Mrs. Davis (Domini Blythe), eager to give students detention. To Leon, this is a cause for revolution, enlisting the help of a burned-out activist turned college professor (Michael Murphy, X-Men: The Last Stand) and his thesis student Alexandria (Emily Hampshire), who Leon believes is destined to be his future bride.
Before long, Leon will have the students revolting in the streets, demanding to be unionized, or his name isn't Leon Trotsky!
As premises go, it's hard to find one that is more outrageously preposterous and charmingly endearing as a teenager unshakable in his belief that he is the living reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. Young Leon even has a plan for ascendance, a nine-step plan on cue cards he keeps pinned up in his bedroom:
1) Start foundation for revolution
2) Marry older woman (hopefully named Alexandria)
3) Get exiled (anywhere)
4) Find Vladimir Ulianov (a.k.a. Lenin) by 21 (hurry up)
5) Start newspaper ("The Spark")
6) Return from exile, overthrow capitalist oppressors
7) Socialist utopia!!!
8) Betrayed by inferiors...exiled again
9) Get assassinated (hopefully somewhere warm)
Quirky yet sincere, The Trotsky is a rousing success, in part because it refuses to adhere to the normal teenage romantic comedy tropes. In the hands of a different director -- or more poignantly, in the hands of the Hollywood system -- this film would have been another throwaway teenage comedy about faux rebellion, with a trendy emo soundtrack, a boring romantic storyline, and a handsome teenager leading his school to victory. Thankfully, The Trotsky is a Canadian comedy, so we get just enough quirkiness to distinguish the film from the pack, with Marxism and Jay Baruchel and fighting teenage apathy. It's a film just a little too smart to be mainstream.
Jay Baruchel is making a surprisingly big name for himself in Hollywood. It's nice to see him in the leading man role, even in a Canadian comedy. As Bronstein, he is neurotic and twitchy and lanky, all arms and legs in an awkwardly tailored suit; a perfect casting. All the other cast members are merely window dressing to his flailing ambitions, but Saul Rubinek is especially hilarious as his hapless father. Some of the gags in The Trotsky are uniquely Canadian; poking fun at Ben Mulroney won't mean anything to Americans, so just pretend that Ryan Seacrest is the son of a former president, and you're set on that one. Other jokes are uniquely Francophone, with punch lines mixing French and English, just like they do in Montreal.
The romantic plot line is a bit of a mixed bag. Emily Hampshire does a fine job as the hapless Alexandria, endlessly buffeted by Leon's advances, but the narrative feels forced at times, as if the film needs to justify its running time by cutting away from the high school to engage in some romantic tomfoolery, just long enough to satisfy some sort of quota before abandoning it again. Sure, it's all awkward and delightfully painful, but endlessly pedantic and predictable as well. The Trotsky is on much stronger footing with Leon at the head of a student protest, not entangled in love.
I have seen The Trotsky compared in the press to Rushmore, but this is a poor comparison at best. We get sprinklings of quirkiness here and there, not the cloying and endless oceans of it that accompany a Wes Anderson film. Case in point, The Trotsky feels more like a John Hughes film, like a Canadian version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Rebellious and ambitious teenagers smarter than the one-dimensional authority figures that repress them, misdirecting their forms of rebellion into bizarre endeavors, racked with self-doubt and teenage anxieties...sound familiar? The message of revolution and apathy smashing is a positive one, but painfully unfocused; a rally call for Generation Y to get mad at, you know, something, if they feel like it. Indeed, I think John Hughes would have liked The Trotsky, which is high praise indeed.
From a technical standpoint, The Trotsky gets the job done. Colors are balanced and detail is average in the anamorphic transfer, with solid white and black levels. There is little noticeable in the way of edge enhancement or compression, but the film tends slightly towards softness. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround score is simplistic and offers clean and clear dialogue, with rear channels mostly reserved for the soundtrack from Montreal indie rockers Malajube. Bass response is average. There are no subtitles, but the French language lines are hard coded in English, which gets the job done. This is a solidly average performance; nothing to get excited about, but nothing to criticize either.
Extras are slim. We get an interview with director Jacob Tierney, some bloopers, and some deleted scenes.
At the end of the day, The Trotsky is just a bit too predictable and a bit too conformist. A little more daringness would have gone a long way. Flush and heady with cleverness and quirk during the first two acts, the film runs out of steam somewhat in the third act, unsure where to go, or how far to take the gag. The Trotsky has a sense of purpose, a manifest destiny at the start of the film, but the ending seems oddly anti-climactic, almost nonplussed. Hey, that's what happens when you try to unionize a generation of slackers.
A comedy of manifest destiny, The Trotsky is that rare film that finds solace outside the barren cinematic wasteland that is Canadian cinema. It may not be a revolutionary comedy in and of itself, but it is impossible not to be won over by its sincerity and enthusiasm.
Not guilty, comrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site