Tribeca 2010 Film Festival Reviews: The Trotsky

Jay Baruchel is quickly becoming my favorite actor in Hollywood. Earlier this year he starred in the hilarious and abysmally marketed She’s Out of My League, a film that flopped largely due to an ad campaign focusing on the worst parts of the film, then hit the screen again about one month ago as the voice of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon, quite possibly the best non-Pixar children’s movie to be released in years. At Tribeca 2010 the tousle-headed boy emerged again in The Trotsky, a comedy about Leon Bronstein, a seventeen year old convicted to his goal of becoming the re-incarnation of Leon Trotsky. I say convicted rather than convinced because Leon conciously goes about making his life like Trotsky’s—has meticulously reread a biography of the man and created visual timelines for himself. Although the film’s goofiness—and occassional ham-fistedness—roots in Leon’s unwillingness to compromise, his character raises some interesting questions about emotion vs thought, while his eventual crusade begs audiences whether revolution is possible once a society becomes too comfortable with its way of living. Whether your average viewer would ever get to these questions is debatable, but the material remains ripe for philosophical pickings.

As mentioned, Leon Bronstein believes he must become the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky—gets arrested for rallying a strike at his father’s company for which he works, stops talking to his father at seventeen, and even commits himself to loving a total stranger because she’s named Alexandra (Emily Hampshire), also the name of Trotsky’s first wife. After stirring up much trouble with his father, he’s removed from boarding school and placed in the public school system, where he finds himself confronted with real, honest-to-god facism in the form of Principal Berkhoff and Mrs Daniver, bitter power-mongerers hell-bent on making students’ lives as stream-lined and collectively awful as possible. Faced with this reality, Leon sets about the only way he knows how—by seeking the formation of a legitimate Student Union, complete with legislative power and School Board recognition. Leon’s a man convinced his future is pre-destined, yet must ensure it is by actively pursuing goals and actions that affirm his pre-figured fate; this problem inhabits every aspect of his life, as noted by Alexandra late in the film, when she states “You don’t actually love me—you just think you should! You’ve never felt a real emotion in your whole life.” And for the most part, she’s right. Unfortunately this division between thought and emotion, and how the two intermingle, is never further touched upon; instead, the movie focuses on Leon’s failing attempts to rally support, arranging everything from a Social Justice themed school dance to a student strike. For a silly comedy, its humor sometimes feels super-intelligent and spot-on. One of the film’s funnier moments comes when a girl is turned away from the Social Justice dance for coming dressed as Ayn Rand. And there’s the whole Soviet History that forms the movie’s meat and potatoes, a knowledge so esoteric that the director includes occassional excerpts from Leon Trotsky’s biography (read aloud at the dinner table by Leon’s dad) to ensure audiences can keep up. Though it’s a history major’s wet dream, The Trotsky may occassionally go over the heads of many viewers. It’s a film that basks in its own Soviet knowledge, a knowledge which may exhaust or escape lazier audiences.

Jay Baruchel on why advertising executives hate his work.

During the first student strike Leon assembles, he realizes that students haven’t merely been bored into inactivity, but are actually apathetic to the reality that surrounds them. This question of apathy vs boredom pervades the entire film—begs the question of whether revolution is possible in our current cushiony Western culture. As Principal Berkhoff states, “People don’t want revolution, they want the same shit they’re comfortable with”. Yet again, the film raises important cultural questions only to dash any significant consideration of their importance in favor of goofiness. Despite this wanton disregard for the issues it raises, The Trotsky is a legitimately great comedy—delivers a level of humor that presumes an intelligence from its audience while inspiring after-movie discussion through the questions it raises. Though some people will find its over-reliance on historical knowledge heavy-handed or pretentious, the film never pushes this knowledge beyond acceptable boundaries. After all, it’s refreshing to see a comedy that respects its viewers enough to sway away from dick and fart jokes. Excellent film—go check it out.

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