Most seventeen year olds are concerned with school, sports and finding a date for the prom. Not Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel). In “The Trotsky,” a new comedy starring “How to Train Your Dragon’s” lead voice, he is convinced he’s the reincarnation of revolutionary Leon Trotsky and tries to unionize the students of Montreal West High School. “The teachers have a union,” he says. “I think we deserve the same.”
Leon Bronstein’s (which was Trotsky’s given name) journey from privileged rich kid to budding Bolshevik begins when he organizes a hunger strike at his father’s (Saul Rubinek) clothing factory. In retaliation Dad pulls Leon out of boarding school, slashes his allowance and exiles him to a public school. There he finds his calling (and falls for an older woman played by Emily Hampshire). Taking the term “student union” a bit too seriously Leon rails against his new school’s tyrannical hierarchy—notably Principal Berkhoff (an ominous Colm Feore)—and goes to absurd lengths to fulfill his pre-ordained destiny by changing the world or at least his small corner of it.
This Canadian commie comedy is chock full of funny lines, nice performances and echoes of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (with a hint of Warren Beatty’s “Reds”). Actor turned director-and-writer Jacob Tierney shows a firm hand behind the camera and has crafted a movie that is a cut above the standard teen caper. It’s more inventive, funnier, grittier (the movie’s best line, spoken by Jessica Paré can’t be reprinted here) than most teen fare, and while Tierney can take credit for much of the film’s success it is Baruchel who really impresses as the burgeoning revolutionary.
In what looks to be Baruchel’s breakout year—he has four films on the slate for 2010 including “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opposite Nic Cage—The Trotsky is a delightfully idiosyncratic performance. Leon may be a little left of center, both personally and politically, but Baruchel humanizes him. It’s a riff on the gawky geek role he patented in “Tropic Thunder” and “Knocked Up,” but this time he adds so much charm (and a good dollop of slapstick) to the performance it’s hard not to root for his and Leon’s mad mission.
“The Trotsky” works because of its clever script and optimistic outlook, but it sparkles because of Baruchel’s performance.