The Bolshevik Revolution meets the spirit of John Hughes in The Trotsky when a 17 year old Montreal student who is convinced that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky foments insurrection at his high school. The smartest teen comedy to hit the big screen since Alexander Payne's Election, it has a bigger heart and more laughs thanks to Jay Baruchel's inspired turn as the titular communist hero and writer/director Jacob Tierney's sharp, witty script. The Trotsky's quest for cinema domination began at the Toronto International Film Festival where it made its world premiere, but with U.S. distributor Tribeca Films offering only a limited arthouse run (along with VOD), box office returns will be slight.
Leon Bronstein (Baruchel) is so certain he's the pioneering Soviet reborn that he has his entire life mapped out on index cards stuck to his bedroom wall. The final card is eventual assassination ("preferably someplace warm"). An attempt to unionize his father's (Saul Rubinek) factory lands him jail and exiled from his posh private school to a public one, but the experience yields big dividends for the budding revolutionary. Seeking legal counsel he looks up Frank McGovern (Michael Murphy). Once a Vietnam era people's lawyer, Frank's since become a burned-out law professor. When he introduces Leon to a law student (Emily Hampshire) who, like Trotsky's first wife, is seven years older and named Alexandra, stalking her becomes a new hobby. Meanwhile at his new school, a dictatorial Principal Berkhoff (Colm Feore) brooks no dissent, providing fertile ground for Leon's revolutionary zeal.
Tierney, who previously re-imagined Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist as a Toronto hustler in his debut feature Twist, delivers an inspired story that riffs on the real Trotsky's life while referencing everything from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin to George Orwell's Animal Farm, and then to any number of teen movies. The high school dance gets a brilliant reworking when Leon suggests a social justice theme and the kids show up in a variety of costumes that read like a history of a hundred years of political revolution.
There are more than just laughs in the film; there is real warmth and affection toward Leon and the rest of the characters. And while Leon can be every bit the pest his father and Principal Berkhoff find him to be, he has a way of getting under people's skin and changing minds.
The director's biggest stroke of genius was casting Baruchel. Recently seen as the star of She's Out of My League and as one of the actors stranded in the jungle in Tropic Thunder, the 28 year old Canadian rises to the challenge of playing an earnest, impassioned teen who can be charming and annoying in the same breath. It is a wonderful performance in a funny, fabulous movie. Leon and Principal Berkhoff debate whether disaffected teenagers are bored or apathetic. Teens and anyone else watching The Trotsky will be neither.
Distributor: Tribeca Films
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Michael Murphy, Colm Feore, Saul Rubinek, Geneviève Bujold, Emily Hampshire and Anne-Marie Cadieux
Director/Screenwriter: Jacob Tierney
Producer: Kevin Tierney
Running time: 113 min.
Release date: May 6 NY