Because it’s ages since I’ve seen it, and because I knew I was going to be watching the sequel, I watched Trainspotting before settling down to T2 Trainspotting. This is going to be a rather short review of the former and a proper review of the latter, as someone who had just watched the former again.
Back in the 90’s Trainspotting was, like the characters’ habit, a shot straight into the vein. I remember feeling, although I never wanted to be a heroin addict, that it still said something to me. I was in my early 30’s and I wasn’t settled into a career (although I was doing a PhD so I was fairly established towards something - but given I’m not really using it now, I can say it didn’t really take), a family life or any of the other things Renton lists in his famous monologues. Although the reasons I hadn’t made those choices wasn’t because I was a junkie, I could identify with the idea that everything on that big of list of things was an active choice and, perhaps because of that, I was quite comfortable watching it and identified with the characters. Twenty years later, part of that still holds true but it’s harder, because I’m older, to directly identify with the characters. I can remember that I used to but I can’t quite make that jump any longer. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it again, I did, but it was more like watching a documentary or watching a friend’s holiday movie than the engaging movie it used to be. However, the story and the characters remain, for me, as compelling, as believable and as interesting as when the film was new.
Which brings me on to the sequel. Just as I felt distanced from the original characters, this film picks up twenty years later, and we see where the characters are after that time. Perhaps the only thing that’s off is that so many of them are still alive given their lifestyle twenty years ago. There is a story that gradually unwraps to bring the characters back together and have them doing stupid, even criminal things. To my mind, that’s spotty although when it works well I thought it was great and when it’s not great I thought it was still much better than some of the films I’ve seen this year (Life I’m talking about you!).
Mixed in with that are scenes of friends, and middle-aged people, recapturing and remembering moments of their youth. The way the film presents it is not how I remember my youth but given it’s a film it works surprisingly well and really recaptured and strengthened the feeling I had from rewatching the first movie.
There is probably a film studies dissertation in the parallels between the two films but I won’t dig into them here because that would constitute spoilers. However, it did strengthen that feeling of former and old friends meeting up again, and recapturing their youth and demonstrating how the choices we make as young people, young men in their case, shape us into our middle age in sometimes predictable sometimes surprising ways.
Ultimately this is one of those sequels that is, as the title suggests, much more like a part two. I honestly don’t think it would work as a standalone film (although obviously I can’t really judge that) and I’m not sure it would that well without knowing the first film although I think you’d probably get by without having just rewatched as I had as long as you could remember the basics - the flashbacks are of a lot the more memorable scenes and should act as reminders.
Overall I enjoyed this, and I felt, with the exception of the fact that none of them had died, I believed where the characters were and how what they’d become at men, and a woman, in their middle age. But if you didn’t warm to Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie or their adventures the first time around, you really won’t want to drop back into their lives now.
Bechdel test: There are only a few named female characters and they mostly stay in silos and don’t interact. However there is a short conversation between Veronika, a new, named character, and Diane (Renton’s kind of girlfriend in the original film). It’s not about men, at least not directly and not all of it and there is enough back and forth that I think it scrapes a pass - but other opinions may differ. It definitely passes two of the three steps, it’s that third step that’s borderline.
Russo test: no. There is no one even hinted at as being anything other than heterosexual. (Actually there is in the first film but not in the second.)
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