A surprisingly kick-ass movie about friendship that was almost as fun to watch as the original!
Premise: 20 years after Renton abandoned his heroin-junky friends for a drug-free existence, he comes back into town to try and make things right again.
About: The original Trainspotting launched the careers of director Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor. But when Boyle went Hollywood, choosing Leonardo DiCaprio to star in The Beach after promising the role to McGregor, it destroyed the friendship instantly, which is the reason why it’s taken 20 years to make this film. Ironically, T2 is a film about mending broken friendships.
Writer: John Hodge (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
The original Trainspotting was part of a revolution in screenwriting and filmmaking that rocked the 90s. Writers and directors were sick of how studios had turned the business into a mathematical formula, and visionaries like Tarantino, Stone, Rodriquez and Boyle were more than eager to bulldoze that formula and erect an aggressive anti-structure in its stead.
Some say that’s the last time Hollywood took chances. After “indie” went mainstream, every potential product had to hit pre-determined checkmarks to get a green light. That’s changing, with Netflix giving directors huge budgets to do whatever they want.
But that hasn’t resulted in the kinds of voices we got back then. Even when a popular filmmaker does make some noise (Cary Fukunaga – Beasts of No Nation), a clear voice doesn’t come with it. In other words, I don’t think you’d know you were watching a Cary Fukanaga film unless someone told you you were.
That was the great thing about writing and directing in the 90s. People were trying to distinguish themselves and stand out. Let’s see if Boyle still has the desire to innovate, or if he’s simply been hit by the nostalgia bug.
When we last heard from Renton (Ewan McGregor), he’d ditched town to find a better life. Well, maybe he found that life and maybe he didn’t, but 20 years later, we see him flying back into town to give his best friend, Simon, the money he stole from him before he left.
Simon is attempting to turn his bar into an upscale brothel and asks Renton if he’ll help. Renton’s not interested but things are bad enough back home that he decides, what the fuck? I’ll stay for awhile. Renton also reconnects with his other best friend, Spud, just before Spud commits suicide. For 20 years, Spud still hasn’t kicked his heroin habit, and he’s ready for one final glorious high.
Renton convinces Spud to choose life, and recruits him to help on the brothel project. What they don’t know is that Begbie, who’s like a bar-hopping Scottish Hitler, as well as someone Renton fucked over 20 years ago, has just escaped prison. And when he finds out that Renton is back in town, he vows to find him and put him six feet under.
I’ll tell you what my big worry was going into Trainspotting 2. And it’s something that all screenwriters should be aware of. I thought Boyle was using this movie as an excuse to work with these actors again.
Why is that bad? Well, the best movies come when you’re passionate about telling a story. That’s how the original Trainspotting was born. Boyle read the book on a plane and he just had to make it his next film.
Once you start writing scripts for reasons other than wanting to tell an amazing story, that’s when you get in trouble. That’s not to say you can’t write something good unless you come at it that way. It’s just less likely to happen. And through the first 30 minutes, that’s what I thought had happened with T2. The over-reliance on nods to the previous film was the tip-off.
But then something happened. After we set up the rather convoluted plot, we were able to focus on these characters’ personal journeys as well as the film’s theme, and that’s where the movie began to shine.
You see, you may think that the reason the original Trainspotting is still relevant today is because it was flashy and bold and had a great soundtrack. But the reason Trainspotting lives on while similar flashy movies at the time (Natural Born Killers) have faded from memory, is because it had something to say about the world. Its theme was slammed into our faces throughout the film’s 2 hour running time: CHOOSE LIFE.
And Trainspotting 2 follows in those sprinting footsteps. Its theme is that while life takes you in different directions, and you get older and things don’t pan out the way you planned them, the one constant you always have is your friends. They’ll be there to pick you up. And that’s why Trainspotting 2 isn’t just another nostalgia trip. It actually has a reason for existing.
And if I’m going to leave you with anything to think about today, it would be that. The script you’re working on now? What are you trying to say with it? What do you hope people leave with when it’s over? If you’re just hoping they have a chuckle or that they enjoyed some cool action scenes, you’re not doing your job. If people want a fun ride, they can go to fucking Disney Land. They come to movies because they want to feel something.
And while I will always preach that entertainment comes first, if you want a story to stay with someone, you have to say something about the world, about people, or about our plight as a species in it.
The most powerful moment in this film was when Renton is asked, “What’s Choose Life?” The catch-phrase that became the marketing voice over for the original trailer. And Renton goes on a modern day “Choose Life” rant that resonates so hard, I found myself squirming in my seat (it’s much longer than in the trailer). You’re asking yourself, “Am I this person? And if I am, why the fuck am I allowing that to happen??”
I don’t know. I feel like writers are afraid to challenge audiences like that these days. Or when they do, they do it all wrong, like Moonlight or Machester by the Sea, where they bury their messages under layers of melodrama and overwrought unimaginative dialogue.
That was always the genius of Trainspotting: it could make you go from crying to laughing within a millisecond. They didn’t lose that here (don’t believe me? wait til you guys see the Spud suicide attempt).
I expected this movie to be a time-waster. It was more a wake-up call to remind me what good scripts are capable of.
[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Passion comes through on the page. When you’re passionate about something, the reader feels it (and when you aren’t, THEY FEEL IT EVEN MORE!). For that reason, write about things you feel passionate about at this moment in your lives – passionate good, passionate bad – it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s gnawing at you, it will come through on the page. Trainspotting was constructed around this idea of mending broken friendships, which is what Boyle and McGregor had to do to work together again. And it’s for that reason that everything here feels so authentic and truthful. If these guys were just going down Memberberry Lane, this film would’ve sucked.