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Most young guys have idols like professional athletes or their father. But no; not Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel). In fact, Leon truly believes he’s the reincarnation of the Soviet iconoclast Leon Trotsky. Leon's to-do list consists of the most notable happenings of Trotsky's life like being exiled, marrying a woman named Alexandra and, of course, being assassinated.
After organizing a hunger strike at his father’s (Saul Rubinek) factory, Leon’s dad decides it’s time to make his son suffer and enrolls him in public school. Leon approaches the situation with optimism, but immediately ends up in the principal’s crosshairs after opting to attend detention with another student out of solidarity. Soon after, Leon begins his venture to construct a student union, literally. His vehicle? The extracurricular activity of the same name. Leon starts by creating a school dance with a social-justice theme and ultimately goes all the way to the school administration to fight for his cause. But no matter how hard Leon tries, the question always remains, is the student body behind him out of boredom or apathy?
The first concern about The Trotsky is obvious; will it be a problem for a viewer with no knowledge of the real Trotsky’s history? Yes and no. Writer-director Jacob Tierney provides an adequate sense of Trotsky’s ideals easily getting the general point across. However, having little knowledge of Trotsky myself, there were a number of moments that garnered giggles during which I assumed some direct historical correlation went over my head. For those in the same situation, seemingly the large majority, this is simply a coming of age film about a kid obsessed with fanatical principles and as that, it’s fairly successful.
Not many actors can pull this off quite as well as Baruchel. He’s awkward and lanky, yet has a natural appeal, which is unquestionably endearing. This is the key to making the character and ultimately the entire film pleasurable. Leon’s an absolute wacko, but there’s something charming about him and even though his hopes and dreams could topple the education system as we know it, you somewhat want him to succeed.
This dichotomy bleeds over into enemy territory. Principal Berkhoff (Colm Feore) is clearly Leon’s archenemy. He’s a humorously exaggerated villain constantly sending snide remarks Leon’s way in a devilish mocking intonation. But even though he’s pegged as The Trotsky’s bad guy, you can’t help but to understand his side of the argument. He’s not really out to destroy Leon, he’s just trying to protect his institution.
When Leon isn’t at odds with Berkhoff, he’s busy perusing another connection to the real Trotsky, marrying an older woman named Alexandra (Emily Hampshire). After the whole debacle at his dad’s factory, Leon seeks legal advice from a professor (Michael Murphy), who just happens to have taught a young woman named Alexandra who is opportunely nine years Leon’s senior. Sadly no one’s ever told Leon that “You and I are going to get married” is a bad pickup line and Alexandra denies his initial advances. But of course, those puppy dog eyes and sweet intentions begin to melt her heart. One would expect the absurd nature of their relationship to make any success on Leon’s part feel contrived, but Tierney approaches the advancement in a reasonable manner.
Even beyond the cutesy parallels between this fictional telling and history, the whole concept is novel. A handful of gags fall flat and those who can only handle low doses of Barchuel’s antics may grow tired of his shtick, but otherwise, The Trotsky is a curiously enjoyable experience and even a little educational. First thing I did when I got home? Indulged in a little Trotsky 101 courtesy of Google.