Trainspotting 2 sacrifices affecting moments for laughs a little too often

T2 has all the usual problems that all sequels do

It’s an audacious strategy to release a sequel to a twenty year old film. The sequel is a strange beast. In 2017 the possibility hangs over any moderately successful film like a black cloud, threatening to disrupt the legacy or integrity of what was once a finished piece. Yet by cobbling together the original cast, director and original author (Irvine Welsh’s Porno is a sequel to the book Trainspotting) the Trainspotting sequel was shaping up to be one of those mould breaking exceptions.

Sequels are at their most fruitful when they take place in an unreal world, Aliens, Terminator: Judgement Day and LOTR: The Two Towers stand out as the most effective sequels as they have a mythology to build upon. The issue with a Trainspotting sequel is that the film was more character driven, it was a look at the people on the lowest rungs of society rather than a look at the society itself. The issues that arose came from the problems that these characters faced due to the poor life choices, it was all very personal. Whilst Ellen Ripley faced demons and Sarah Connor had her issues, these films told higher concept stories above the personal drama. Trainspotting is a self-contained world where nothing the addicts do will affect the world outside of their own circle, it is not a film which lends itself to sequels.

The film follows up with Renton (Ewan Mcgreggor), twenty years after leaving Edinburgh, coming back home and reuniting with his old group as a clean man. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is in prison, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is extorting money and running a pub and Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still living the life of a junky. Renton teams back up with Sick Boy in a scheme to turn his pub into a spa/ brothel but there are still tensions in the group regarding his betrayal of the group at the end of the first film. This leads to chase scenes (like in the first film), bar brawls (like in the first film) and the group being terrified of a murderous Begbie (like in the first film)

This is all to be expected, as I said, the sequel is a strange beast. Things must be revisited otherwise it is just another film with the same characters in. Trainspotting 2 revisits the events of the first in an interesting way, it contains almost all the same events only shuffled about and recreated in a different light. A friend described the film as a remix of the first, this rings true when you look at the structure. It’s not hard to imagine the first film plotted out on post-it notes, them being randomly jumbled into a new order and the story of the second being fleshed out around that skeleton.

The film when looked at on its own merits is wonderfully funny, colourful and vibrant. It makes the most of dramatic lighting and shadows, one scene of Spud holed up going cold turkey makes particularly good use of shadows to demonstrate torment. The neon green light that seems to follow Sick Boy around amplifies the constant expressions of disgust that plagues his face. The film is constantly placing characters within interesting frames and filming them from odd angles, close-ups and canted angles galore. It’s jarring and a bit overused but for the most part it works. However, it does seem as if the film is trying too hard at some points to replicate the effects of the world bending of the first. One scene of a coke fuelled football argument is inspired and creative but the film does not revisit the reality bending with the same passion again, making it seem as if a scene left over from the first film rather than a cohesive piece of T2.

Trainspotting 2 is an uneven film that leans a little too heavily on the goofy side. The original was a dark comedy with moments of surreal horror (you know what scene I’m referencing), the sequel is almost entirely comical, and there are no real moments that stun or creep out. This could be due to the lack of heroin use in the film, something which was a cornerstone of the first is absent from the second. On many occasions the film does well to establish drama only to have it fizzle away into nothingness, the apparent resentment between Renton and Sick Boy never really pays off after having a lot of time spent on it, Spud’s recovery is glanced over and Sick Boy’s cocaine habit is just background noise. Potentially affecting moments are sacrificed for comedy a little too often and the dynamic of the group remains unchanged for the most part. It is a little too self-indulgent in its praise and reverence for its forebear, the fact that the film ends on a recreation of a shot from the first shows how little the filmmakers believed this film would have any impact.

Recommendation

A sequel is a sequel and it cannot avoid its fate, they will almost always be lesser when they ride the wave of the original and T2 is guilty of this. Yet it performs admirably considering the wealth of factors working against it. It is, on the hole, a laugh out loud story filled with likeable characters featuring well written dialogue and constantly interesting cinematography.

Trainspotting is a modern classic. T2 is a good film, a solid sequel and an enjoyable comedy. Ultimately it inherited the humour and characters of the first, but not the punch.

Manchester by the Sea is story telling at its best

The ultimate weepie speaks volumes in its silence

Awards season is always a dividing time, especially in the UK, where movies that have been lauded as ‘the best of 2016’ aren’t released until 2017 (Downsize’s review of 2016 will run from FEB-JAN). So, for a long time I have had to stew in the praise for films I haven’t been able to form an opinion on yet, meaning that any views on the film have been skewed and affected by media influence. For this reason, I attempted to approach Manchester by the Sea with a certain level of cynicism to counteract the excitement that had been conditioned into me. Not long after sitting down in the cinema all cynicism was pounded into a million little pieces as Kenneth Lonergan’s latest disarmed me with an unexpected humour. It quickly became clear that there was a reason why this film has been batting off praise from all angles.

Casey Affleck leads the charge as the emotionally unavailable Lee Chandler, who must move back home to Manchester, Massachusetts to become the sole guardian for his nephew Patrick after his brother Lee dies of a heart attack. Lee has trouble with the idea of moving back home due to his terrible associations he has with the city and he fails to be the emotional rock that the teenage Pat needs. You would not be blamed for believing that this film is nothing but award season pandering. Lee’s past is a mountain of melancholic misgivings that keeps revealing a higher peak as the clouds begin to dissipate.

Lee Chandler manages to be a frustrating character in every way while somehow still avoiding becoming a pain in the ass. Aware of the influence that this event will have on Pat, he remains oblivious of a satisfactory way to handle the situation, dragging the boy to funeral parlours, will readings and informing Pat that he must uproot his life and move to Quincy. Lee constantly asks other people what he needs to do to make things alright and his insecurities are consistent and clear throughout the viewing. He is a self-destructive man who does not trust himself to handle responsibility for another, and with good reason. He inspires sympathy in every bad decision because each mistake he makes is explainable and that is something that is difficult to instil into a character. Whilst this is mainly down to the writing of the character it cannot be understated how much Affleck’s mumbling vulnerability adds to this. Those who enjoyed his performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford will know that Casey Affleck can do vulnerability like no one else.

But beneath all its weighty drama, death and sadness the film finds time to give space to the little things. Lucas Hedges allows Pat to have fun as a normal teenager despite all that is going on around him. Scenes of Pat attempting to get his end away with one of his girlfriends are played like they’re straight out of a screwball comedy. The dialogue maintains a witty back and forth in almost all scenes featuring Lee and Pat and even in moments of gut wrenching sadness the film still manages to find laughs. In particular, a scene involving a midnight snack and a freezer door.

The film is a masterclass in pacing and appropriateness, taking a back seat in the life of Lee it introduces us to his dissatisfaction with life through the goofy words of the clients he serves. It holds back on revealing the true nature of Lee’s relationship with Manchester until it knows its viewers are ready for it. Gut punch follows gut punch follows gut punch but the film never becomes a slog. It hops from the miserable to the comic in refreshingly organic ways. The beginning the film takes a more documentarian approach to Lee’s life, taking a back seat and allowing the actions to speak for themselves. While the dialogue stands out it is in the silence that Manchester by the Sea truly shines. When faced with bad news Lee does not say much, he contorts his face subtly and mumbles some contraction. Affleck acts as a real life Kuleshov effect, allowing viewers to experience the news fresh through Lee’s view rather than being told what to feel. Brevity is the true hero of the piece.

Recommendation

Not everyone wants to feel sad when they go to the cinema, and to those people I say that if there was one film to break that rule for it is this. The film is not a Requiem for a Dream style journey into despair more than it is a movie about moving on. There is something positive to find in every interaction. Always something beautiful to notice.

The film is about characters, it is not spectacle heavy but does have its moments of catharsis. it’s big on laughs and sustains a surprising level of entertainment throughout. It may not be a film that you will watch multiple time but it is a film that will have an effect on anyone who isn’t a miserable cynic on a molecular level. I am trying and failing to come up with criticisms of Manchester by the Sea.