A&E Spring Picks: The Trotsky

Jay Baruchel has come a long way since the days of PMK, solidifying himself as an up-and-coming member of the Canadian acting community.
Jay Baruchel has come a long way since the days of PMK, solidifying himself as an up-and-coming member of the Canadian acting community.
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Who says you can’t come home again?

Rising Hollywood star Jay Baruchel did, and made a film sure to be considered a Canadian cinematic classic in the process.

Come to think of it, you can’t really consider The Trotsky, written and directed by Baruchel’s childhood friend Jacob Tierney, a complete homecoming.

Baruchel, who still lives in Montreal with two high school friends and has a Canadian maple leaf permanently tattooed on his chest, has been fairly open about his loyalty to his home and native land.

The actor has a lengthy list of Can-Con to his name, dating all the way back to his early days as the host of the television show Popular Mechanics for Kids with fellow Montreal native and future Girl Next Door Elisha Cuthbert. Last February marked Baruchel’s first turn as a leading man in the underrated She’s Out of My League, playing a lovable loser who unwittingly lands his dream girl.

The Trotsky positions Baruchel as Leon Bronstein, a privileged Montreal teenager, who believes he is the reincarnation of Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotksy.

As punishment for attempting to organize a hunger strike at his father’s company, protagonist Bronstein is forced to transfer to a large public school, run by a strict principal played by Canadian stage and screen legend Colm Feore.

Feore’s Principal Berkoff (sporting a moustache similar to Lenin’s) is the most power-hungry on-screen administrator since Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

After quickly targeting Berkoff as a “fascist”, Leon finds a renewed sense of purpose in a quest to unionize the students at his new school.

In order to stage his revolution, Leon joins the student council (ironically named the “student union”) and enlists the aid of an aging activist lawyer and Vietnam War draft-dodger (Michael Murphy), a rag-tag group of students and his adoring younger sister to put an end to Berkoff’s authoritarian rule of Montreal West High School.

Another key recruit is Alexandra (Emily Hampshire), a 27- year-old recent PhD graduate. The name is significant, as Trotsky’s first wife was named Alexandra. Leon’s belief in his reincarnation dictates that his life follows Trotsky’s life to a tee—and this includes marrying an older woman named Alexandra.

Baruchel portrays the determined dreamer Leon with perfect balance of confidence, zeal and naivety required of the role, as he works to mobilize his fellow students while he awkwardly attempts to woo the woman he has decided is destined to be his future bride.

The film also confirms his status as an unlikely male lead. His natural acting is at times reminiscent of a young Dustin Hoffman.

Murphy, as the aging hippy rediscovering his activist roots and Hampshire as the reluctant love interest are also standouts in a strong ensemble cast, which also includes venerable Canadian screen veteran Saul Rubinek as Leon’s long-suffering businessman father.

The setting was also a standout. It was refreshing to see a Canadian film so unabashedly Canadian. As Canadian viewers, we are used to our major cities acting as surrogates for major American cities such a New York and Chicago.

Here, Montreal plays itself.

On the flip side, as Canadians, we are also accustomed to Canadian films rich with stereotypes and cliché. It may be a sign of a national inferiority complex—or at least an artistic one—but Canadian films often feel the need to make a point of showcasing just how “Canadian” they are.

The Trotsky doesn’t need to try that hard, it just is Canadian.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still references made to Margaret Trudeau and French/English tensions, however they are done in an organic way which will likely remind you of a quintessential conversation you’ve likely had as a Canadian yourself.

Even the inclusion of E-Talk Daily and a campy Ben Mulroney cameo seem to fit into the plotline, rather than looking like a product placement.

Since the film premièred at TIFF last year it has received a great deal of hype—and it’s well deserved.

The script is intelligent and witty. Naturally, it makes enough political and historical references to make any political aficionado or history buff swoon. Tierney masterfully manages to incorporate the jargon into the script without making it sound like a textbook.

Not to mention, it also has a stellar score courtesy of Montreal-based indie band, Malajube. So thank you Jacob Tierney and Jay Baruchel for providing us with well written, well acted, entertaining and engaging coming-of-age comedy…and I’m not just saying that because it’s Canadian.

But it doesn’t hurt, eh?

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