Jacob Tierney's The Trotsky comes across as the product of a filmmaker with a singular vision. It's a movie based on a bizarre conceit and a quirky character, sprinkled with off-kilter humour and fuelled by oddball energy. Tierney could probably reapply these ingredients to several different plot recipes and build a career as Canada's answer to Wes Anderson.
But the Montreal native says he won't do anything like The Trotsky again.
"Reincarnation high school comedies are not going to be my thing," says Tierney, whose first (and only) reincarnation high school comedy opens this week. It stars Jay Baruchel as a teenager convinced he is the second coming of Communist icon Leon Trotsky.
Baruchel's Leon Bronstein not only shares Trotsky's birth name, but his desire to harness proletarian power and seduce older women. Fate, self-delusion and his own actions---which include an attempt to unionize the students at his high school---only reinforce his absurd belief.
Wacky as it is, Tierney treats the material with deadpan restraint, perhaps because The Trotsky is, to some extent, an accidental comedy. Tierney's inspiration for the script, which he first drafted a decade ago, was the dramatic potential of the real-life Trotsky's late adolescence.
"The years of [Trotsky's] life between 17 and 21 are really interesting. I thought, this could be a great skeleton for a plot," says Tierney. "Originally I didn't make it so that he was a reincarnation. I just used Trotsky's life as kind of an arc. Then I realized I had to make it a comedy, because what I had written was kind of crazy."
While his jokes poke some fun at young Leon's identity crisis and whole-cloth embrace of Communist ideology, Tierney doesn't sell the character out. To him, Leon's overall message trumps his occasional difficulty with the details.
"Politics is used as mythology in this movie. There's no particular political agenda to either the movie or the character," says Tierney. "It's a much broader, simpler message of rewarding participation. Leon's ultimately a guy who just wants people to get involved."
He's also a character played by one of Hollywood's rising talents. Tierney acknowledges that landing Baruchel, who's lent his geeky comedic presence to movies such as Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder and She's Out of My League, improved The Trotsky's commercial chances. But it was also a solid artistic choice.
"He was the first person I went out to. Once it occurred to me that it could be Jay, I was like, 'Oh, it's gotta be,'" says Tierney, who adds that Baruchel remains free of diva tendencies despite his growing profile. "He was a joy to work with."
For Tierney, shooting and setting the film in his hometown was also a source of joy. "Montreal is like a character in the movie---it's definitely a love letter to Montreal," he says. "I decided I was going to go the opposite way of how people tend to go, which is to play that down."
Tierney's next film marks a change in direction---he's currently editing the noir thriller Notre Dame de Grace, which was shot in Montreal last winter and also features Baruchel.
This shift to the dark side might mess with moviegoers' expectations, especially if The Trotsky is a hit. But Tierney never said reincarnation high school comedies were his thing.