It’s been said many times before: you can’t go home again.
Recall the feeling of stepping into your high school as an adult, or even visiting an old childhood haunt when you’re fully grown-up — everything seems smaller, different, and in a way, unreachable. Memories abound, but you have to trudge through the decades-thick fog to get to them.
Trainspotting 2, Danny Boyle’s followup to the original movie does its best to rekindle the spirit of the 1996 classic. While it isn’t wholly successful, it’s not a total fail, either. Consider the mid-’90s, a time of tumult, when grunge music was starting to die on the vine and dance music, raves and designer drugs were taking over the landscape. Something was happening.
In 2017, the world is a considerably different place, with any pop-culture shift overshadowed by the darkness of politics. Transplanting the Trainspotting mantra of “Choose Life” is a tough chore, to be sure, but Boyle takes on the challenge in his typical Boyle-ish way, with clever shots, fun graphics and smart dialogue. Certain scenes elicit a chuckle, others a tear, some a mere yawn — and it likely all depends on your age when the original came out. Ultimately, your initial identification with Trainspotting is important.
An incredibly helpful detail is that the original foursome — Ewan McGregor (Renton), Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy/Simon), Robert Carlyle (Begbie), Ewen Bremner (Spud) — is back and willing. (As a side note, they’ve all aged wonderfully.)
What do you mean “Boyle-ish”?
Danny Boyle is playful with his films, and it’s apparent this one meant a lot to him. We’re not just revisiting some of his old characters, we’re actually entering each of their lives and dealing with the individual mountains, some literal, that they have to climb. The issues they face run the gamut, so you’d be hard-pressed not to identify with any of them, at least on some level.
Renton is at a crossroads and completely aimless, and is returning home to Edinburgh for the first time since he stole the money from his boys. Simon is still there in the city, trying to keep his ramshackle (and mostly empty) bar afloat. Begbie is… Begbie, in prison. Where else would you expect him to be? And poor Spud, who managed to get clean previously, is back on heroin after a series of life disasters.
Anyone in their mid-to-late 30s knows that aching gnaw: Am I ever going to amount to anything meaningful?
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Do the guys still do drugs? And if they don’t, what kind of movie is this?
As above, yes, there is still drug use in the film. But unlike a bunch of guys in their late teens and early 20s, they’re not running around Edinburgh causing s–t and popping whatever drugs are available. That’s not to say they don’t try, but the outcome of their shenanigans is vastly different from the original movie.
You have to hand it to Boyle, because in one sense he really nails that youth-to-adulthood transformation. In several scenes, the main characters are surrounded by memories and nostalgia; Simon posts photos of the old days all around him, and Spud starts writing his many almost-unbelievable stories of his younger days. By the end of the film, his one-room apartment is literally plastered with short stories on every inch of the walls. The guys are consumed by their pasts, essentially stuck, trying to grow older but held back by the memories.
The film sags a little bit in the middle as the boys search for themselves, but it’s an emptiness that matches how many people feel in this phase of life: Where do I go from here? What have I accomplished so far?
Don’t worry, this movie isn’t all introspection and seriousness. There are plenty of laughs to be had, most notably a karaoke session with very loyal Scots and an overeager Begbie popping too much Viagra.
Are there any nods to Trainspotting fans?
Many, many, many. There were little bursts of joy from the theatre audience when the moments happened. (No spoilers here.)
Do you have to see the original to understand this one?
No, it’s not imperative, but it would definitely help you care more about the characters. Boyle does a good job explaining what’s going on and what went on in the past, so you wouldn’t be lost, but you might be bored watching these guys traipse around Edinburgh.
Obviously, Trainspotting 2 is a continual reminder of the original, so the film has the potential to trigger massive waves of nostalgia. Seeing Renton enter his childhood bedroom (kept intact) is a microcosmic symbol of the entire movie itself — it’s about whether or not that kind of experience means anything to you personally.
So what’s the bottom line?
Heh, “line.” In all seriousness, this is a bold and brave attempt by Boyle which could have flopped spectacularly. Instead, we get an imperfect product — not unlike ourselves and the movie’s characters — riddled with deficiencies and inadequacies. Renton and his pals couldn’t be more disparate, but they all emerged from the same core of drug abuse and waywardness. They return to where it all began to reconcile their present realities, and while the movie struggles under its own weight at some junctures, it’s still a joyful romp into memory.
‘Trainspotting 2’ opens in Toronto theatres on March 17, in Vancouver and Montreal on March 24, and across the rest of Canada on March 31.