The term “communist” is thrown around a lot lately, often by people with no real concept of what it means, since they equate it with socialism, liberalism, progressivism and even fascism, all distinctly separate concepts and some even diametrically opposed to each other. It’s so ludicrous that the time is right for a comedy to come along and mess with those perceptions, and The Trotsky certainly fits the bill. It’s part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Video On Demand initiative, which means you can dial it up through your Comcast cable systems and watch it right now to see a completely different yet still lovable side of Jay Baruchel (She’s Out Of My League, Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, How to Train Your Dragon).
Why should you watch this film? Writer/director Jacob Tierney has the pitch for you. “It’s a movie about a kid who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. That usually does it. There aren’t a ton of other movies with that subject. I used to describe it as Reds in high school, only funny. It’s not didactic at all. It’s not about communism or socialism, it’s about this kid. What he believes, he’s not even trying to inflict it on other people. All he wants out of his peers is participation and enthusiasm for anything.”
So why Trotsky, a figure closely associated with Communist Russia, even though he hated Stalin and the Soviet Union? Tierney isn’t shy about admitting he’s left of center (“Obviously, we’re Canadian, so we’re all big Obama supporters,” he says. “We consider him a conservative.”), but that’s not entirely the reason behind it. “What captured my imagination about Trotsky as a young man was that I thought of him as an intellectual and a journeyman. I loved his writing – I know it’s very dry – but also I found his life very engaging and his biography very inspiring. Certainly, he’s a checkered dude, historically, but I found a lot worth re-examining about him. His life itself was so full of interesting people and interesting events and he went all over the world and had an affair with Frida Kahlo and got killed with an icepick. He’s just an interesting guy.”
Rest assured that even though Baruchel’s Leon Bronstein is determined to live his life following in the exact footsteps of Trotsky before him, you don’t need an extensive knowledge of Russian history to appreciate this comedy. “I tried to design a movie where you didn’t have to know anything about Leon Trotsky to appreciate it,” Tierney says. “It’s not even an intro to Leon Trotsky. It uses a kind of iconography to retell a story. I mean, a basic knowledge of world history is always a little bit helpful – that there was a Soviet Union or a revolution like that is kind of good to know. Hopefully, it’s just about this kid.”
“Except for the title,” he adds with a laugh. “When they tested the title, the title tested really well, especially among teenagers because they thought the word was funny.” Come to think of it, The Trotsky could easily mean something totally filthy if you put your mind to it.
It bears noting that “communism” and “comedy” are not that often linked, and even Tierney hadn’t initially planned on changing that. “I’ve never said this in America before, but I’ve always wanted to make a communist high school movie,” he jokes. “At first, I wrote a very serious communist high school movie which was very similar to this film but not funny, and it was not good. The script was just so bad that I had this moment reading it again where I started laughing and I was like ‘f–k, you suck!’ Then I thought ‘wait! You like laughing! Maybe other people do, too!’ I figured out a way to kinda have my cake and eat it, too, with this speechifying stuff if I just make it funny. There were a lot of other inspirational movies along the way – a big one would be Bulworth that kind of led me towards where I could go.”
What does Tierney hope you’ll take away from the movie? “It’s pretty simple,” he states. “He’s not trying to convert these kids to socialism or anything like that. I think the thesis of the movie is ‘engagement is rewarded.’ All Leon wants from these kids is for them to participate. That’s his revolution. Just do stuff. That’s my inspirational message. Do stuff.”