Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Jacob Tierney, director & writer
Starring: Jay Baruchel (Leon Bronstein “Trotsky”), Emily Hampshire (Alexandra Leith), Anne-Marie Cadieux (Anne Bronstein), Colm Feore (Principal Berkhoff), Saul Rubinek (David Bronstein), Genevieve Bujold (Denise Archembault), Liane Balaban (Alexandra’s friend), Kaniehtiio Horn (Caroline), Ben Mulroney (himself)
It’s so rare that Canadians produce an intelligent comedy that one feels an obligation to greet the arrival of The Trotsky with a mixture of relief and half-hearted huzzahs. Though the film hardly ranks with The Big Lebowski or Some Like It Hot, it has a sophisticated premise and the wit to follow its ideas through to an amusing conclusion. Turning the standard high school comedy on its head, The Trotsky boldly suggests that it’s not just hormones that make teenagers maladjusted—the teachers and principals are to blame as well.
Writer and director Jacob Tierney has come up with a funny idea: what would happen if a teenaged boy in Montreal decided that he was the reincarnation of legendary Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky? Could a reborn Trotsky foment a revolt in today’s glib, oh-too-cool high schools? How would post-modern adults and kids react to a strident, focused doctrinaire?
Jay Baruchel is well cast as a Montreal Jewish kid born as Leon Bronstein, which just happens to be Trotsky’s birth name. (Communists Trotsky, Stalin and Tito adopted stage names like rappers do these days; no doubt there’s a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on the topic). Seizing on the strange coincidence of having the same name, young Leon goes all out to be a new insurrectionary leader. But when he tries to organize his father’s small schmatta factory, Leon’s dad David (Saul Rubinek in a winning performance) decides enough is enough and transfers his boy from a private school to a contemporary Montreal high school.
There, Leon meets his nemesis Principal Berkhoff (a preternaturally composed Colm Feore), who wants to maintain discipline in his school at any cost. Fighting indifference from his non-class conscious classmates and the rigours of a hierarchical institution, young Trotsky somehow grabs the media’s attention and actually causes a riot. He also gets a girl—sort of—a pretty, older law student named Alexandra. (Yep; Trotsky’s first wife was pretty, older and a lawyer).
Tierney, an actor himself, works well with a dream cast made up of a number of Canuck celebs including Genevieve Bujold, Liane Balaban, Emily Hampshire and, of course, Rubinek and Feore. It helps that Jay Baruchel, a budding Hollywood star returned to his native Montreal to make the film with his old pal, Tierney.
But will The Trotsky be a hit? It would be great if it happened but it’s doubtful. Tierney’s comedy premise is a bit recherché and Baruchel too strident as the lead. (Not his fault; that’s the way the part was written). The film lacks genuinely funny comic set pieces. You want to laugh during The Trotsky but all you do is smile—and not all the time.