Uncomfortably Numb


In Irvine Welsh’s “The Granton Star Cause,” one of three short stories from his collection The Acid House adapted for this film trilogy, a laddie loses his job after his boss takes a training course called “Positively Managing the Redundancy Scenario.” The movie itself faces this challenge: like Welsh’s more celebrated novel Trainspotting, it focuses on the static, dissipated lives of the Scottish bottom-rung classes, where despair is numbed by drugs, petty crime, and “fitba.” But Trainspotting didn’t wallow in its native misery; an air of bemused detachment enabled the movie to see how the impotent rage borne of class barriers and squandered potential begets not only violence and self-medication but also fierce humor and—sometimes—decisive, life-altering action.

In The Acid House (subtitled for American release), misery only begets more misery: meandering lives don’t stray from their crooked circular path, and nobody changes. There’s so little leavening humor here, and so much physical and emotional violence visited upon the already abject, that the film seems as pointless as the wasted lives it purports to examine. In “The Granton Star Cause,” a lazy yob loses everything he has and then meets God, who turns him into a fly. The title story’s football hooligan (Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in Trainspotting) takes too much LSD and switches bodies with an infant. “A Soft Touch” is the only installment unencumbered by fatuous supernatural devices: a sap marries his pregnant girlfriend, who then leaves him with the baby while she screws the neighbor upstairs. (The gull is played by Kevin McKidd, also from Trainspotting; these familiar faces inspire more unflattering comparisons to the earlier film.)

A major problem may be that Welsh wrote the screenplay for The Acid House himself. For all his scatological realism and contempt for sentimentality, Welsh has a tendency toward moralism in the exacting way he hands out comeuppances. The film of Trainspotting avoided this pitfall through ironic distance and sheer speed, but The Acid House never escapes its own redundancy scenario. Like its characters, it’s defeated by sloth and precedent, and going nowhere slowly.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 3, 1999

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