SXSW 2017 Review: T2 TRAINSPOTTING, The Boys Are Back in Town and It's Not a Pretty Sight
Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle return in director Danny Boyle's boisterous, rueful sequel, written by John Hodge.
Kicking heroin and staying off it for 20 years is only the first step for Renton.
Facing the likely elimination of his office job, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, Scotland in search of something he cannot yet identify. Lost youth? His next step in life?
His old mates are not faring so well. Spud (Ewen Bremner), whose many rehabilitations have never been long-lasting, is separated from old love Gail (Shirley Henderson) and his wee lad and on the verge of finally giving up. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has been in prison for two decades, but he's had enough and decides to return home on his own terms.
Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), formerly known as Sick Boy, is doing a tiny bit better in material terms, but he's still a hardcore cocaine addict, which keeps him from making much progress. He's got a girlfriend from Bulgaria, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who is feisty and supportive, but she too wants something better.
Renton tries to help Spud, Simon tries to get revenge on Renton for swiping his dough 20 years before, Begbie tries to reinsert himself into his family, and Veronika looks for an angle to get what she wants. Everyone wants to better their lot in life, without knowing quite how to do that. And over everything hangs the ever-present past, like storm clouds that threaten to burst out at any moment.
Released in 1996, Trainspotting captured the zeitgeist in Britain, according to everyone, and the angry youth rebellion translated incredibly well in other parts of the world, including the U.S. It was based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, who updated the characters and their world in Porno, published about 10 years after the movie.
In a Q&A session after the screening at SXSW, however, Boyle and McGregor both acknowledged their feelings that making a sequel at that time wouldn't interest them. More time was needed to really see any substantial changes in the characters and their times.
Thus, John Hodge, who wrote the screenplay for the original as well as others for Boyle, seeks to capture those changes in a realistic and grim manner, while also allowing room for a few boisterous antics. The dialogue is superb and the characterizations make sense.
Long-term addiction is a core element in the personalities of Simon and Spud; the former is still functioning, while the latter has been sinking steadily. Renton offers a helping hand to both, whether out of guilt or remorse or friendship or something else. Begbie remains so self-involved that we never see him actually converse with his wife or grown son; he just assumes that he is all that matters and that defines what he does after his escape from prison.
As with the original, the sequel is consumed with music, though with different edges to it, and that leads to one of the characters raising the obvious question: 'Is it an appreciation of the past or just nostalgia?' Snippets of the original flash through the minds of the characters as they come upon familiar landmarks or situations, much as they would for anyone in the audience, much as what happened to me when Blondie's "Dreaming" starting playing, accompanying a wistful sequence.
As I silently mouthed the words and tapped along to the beat of the song on my cinema seat, I realized I too had fallen under the spell of the movie. Boyle acknowledged afterward that this is very much a partial view; it's all about the men and how they view and deal with the passage of time.
Not very well, I'm afraid. Yet that frankness is a great chunk of what makes T2 Trainspotting a sobering experience; it's waking up with a hangover and wondering what you've done with your life for the last 20 years.
The film played as a secret screening at SXSW last night. It opens in select U.S. theaters on Friday, March 17, ahead of its wide release on March 31. Visit the official site for more information.