What seems like an unnecessary trip to catch up with a bunch of Scottish heroin addicts turns poignant and funny in T2 Trainspotting, a study in friendship, regrets, and the people we love who drive us crazy.
The original Trainspotting in 1996 was an acquired taste that nonetheless hit audiences with a jolt of youthful exuberance and jittery energy. Directed by Danny Boyle (his second feature after Shallow Grave) and based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, it featured Ewan McGregor in a breakout performance as Mark “Rent Boy” Renton, a magnetic miscreant with a wry, rapid-fire delivery that kept us spellbound despite his repulsive habit.
Mark is back in Edinburgh in T2 Trainspotting and not shooting up anymore, but his career and marriage are on the skids. He’s visiting his dad after his mom’s death, and after nostalgically flipping through his old record albums, he can’t bear to listen to even the open bars of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.”
Simon, aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), still bleaching his hair with a toothbrush, isn’t much better. He’s doing cocaine and running a blackmail scheme with a hot Bulgarian hooker named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) but has designs on something more respectable, like owning a massage parlor.
Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who always preferred the high of violence than anything else, itches to get out of prison. Meanwhile, Spud (Ewen Bremner), the sweet sad sack of the bunch, has tried to be a good dad but lost his job after being an hour late because of the seasonal time change. He’d never noticed stuff like that before, he tells his support group, having been on smack for years.
Like the first film, the plot is beside the point. Screenwriter John Hodge, who adapted the first film and loosely adapts more of Welsh’s work for this one, understands what makes these guys tick. There are fewer visual flourishes here – no diving into the filthiest toilet in Scotland, only to have the water in Mark’s imagination turn a pristine blue – but a warmth that sneaks up on you in a way that only time can when you realize 20 years have gone by.
The guys visit old haunts and probe wounds like how Mark ripped them off (well, all except Spud) after a drug deal, or how Simon was so high, he neglected his infant daughter and she died. “How do you keep a lid on that one?” Mark snaps after a testy exchange.
That’s the question, isn’t it, the older we become? The cast is uniformly fine, clearly relishing their connection and these characters as much as Boyle and Hodge do. Even Kelly Macdonald, who played Mark’s underage lover the first go-round, returns briefly and organically, though first-time viewers will miss the irony in her observing that Veronika is a little young.
Simon tells Veronika he plans to screw over Mark like Mark did to him, but within five seconds of their taking selfies together and finishing each other’s sentences about soccer, we know that isn’t going to happen. There’s still a heist and a betrayal but also redemption, at least for a moment, along with honest laughs, melancholy, and the kind of irritation and affection only those who knew you back when can generate. It’s a potent, affecting cocktail.