The Front Runner

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This movie was so frustrating to watch. I’ll start with Hugh Jackman, who is a terrific actor and very charismatic. He’s playing Gary Hart, whom he looks nothing like. Even with the goofy wig. And he isn’t showing the charism that Hart apparently had.

Filmmaker Jason Reitman, who no longer has to be mentioned as the son of Ivan (since he’s done some big films like Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, to name a few), doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie he wants this to be. It’s trying to be a political satire that someone like Aaron Sorkin or Robert Altman would have written – and so much better.

The opening shot, going all around news vans and reporters waiting for Gary Hart, had the vibe of In the Loop (one of the best political satires you’ll ever see). I chuckled at how so many characters were smoking, when Reitman made a movie condemning the tobacco industry for what they do; yet I think movies showing a lot of characters smoking subconsciously has kids thinking it’s cool. I’m not saying that filmmakers shouldn’t do that, but I found it odd that he did it.

It’s also odd that Reitman seems to be rather sympathetic to Hart and his plight. It’s the big, bad reporters…turning out to be sleazy tabloid reporters that used to just be relegated to the pages of the National Enquirer. It’s as if they’re saying the media hid in bushes, ambushed Hart, and took a good man down (for those too young to remember the scandal, he was basically a shoe-in to become the next President). Yet, I’m guessing Reitman and other liberals in Hollywood had no problem with how this same type of stuff almost took down Judge Kavanaugh; or, how they’re using these same tactics when talking about Trump (with the Billy Bush tape, Stormy Daniels and other affairs, etc.).

Look, Hart was merely the first presidential candidate taken down from affairs. Just because there’s a campaign manager (underplayed brilliantly by J.K. Simmons) that says, “This isn’t 1972. It’s not even 1982.” Or newspaper editor Bill Bradlee (played oddly by Alfred Molina) talks about Lyndon Johnson telling reporters lots of women are going to be coming in and out of his hotel room, and he expects the same respect Kennedy got. Well, it’s a shame that it took Hart down. He probably would’ve been a great president. You could also say it’s a shame that he couldn’t keep it in his pants.

Perhaps Reitman feels he’s knocking Hart enough by having a few female characters give contrived speeches. In fact, one of them (Ari Graynor), is actually done so horribly. She’s grilling a young reporter that idolizes Hart and wants to understand her hatred of him. The reasons she gives aren’t anything a woman would’ve said back then. It’s something we’d say now, in the era of the  #metoo movement after all these stories we’ve heard about Harvey Weinstein, Cosby, and the rest. Back then, a woman would’ve merely said, “He’s a womanizing pig, that’s why I hate him, and he’s getting what he deserves.”

And if I’m going to knock Reitman for writing (with two other screenwriters, one not being Diablo Cody), he also created one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to stories about real characters. Making stuff up. Like a young, African-American reporter (Mamoudou Athie), who is a fictional character. They made up the scene of him being afraid of the airplane turbulence and Hart calming him down, and later giving him a book to read. Why do we need scenes showing Hart in such a positive light, unless those things actually happened? And I won’t even get started on how horribly written that reporter character was done. Every time he’s around Hart, it’s like a deer in headlights. He’s so nervous, because he’s working his first job as a reporter for the Washington Post.

Reitman also makes the characters all one-note, and that’s frustrating. Top that off by the fact that every other character in this movie, seemed more interesting than Hart. I wanted to know more about that reporter (before finding out he’s fictional). The campaign manager, the wife, and Donna Rice (who is shown here as a bimbo that we’re supposed to all laugh at; especially when she says things like, “I want to work for the campaign, because I like his positions.”). In fact, there were a few times they went for cheap laughs in this movie. Another scene that comes to mind is Hart getting bad reception with an early cell phone that’s huge, like the one Michael Douglas used in Wall Street.

All those complaints aside, I was never bored watching this.

I was a teenager when the Hart scandal broke, and I remember being fascinated by it. The fact that he told reporters to follow him, because they’ll just be bored. And they get a picture of him with a blonde on his lap, on a boat called “Monkey Business.” It was such a bizarre thing to happen, Johnny Carson even told it without a punchline (they show that in the movie).

It would’ve been nice if instead of just making this film a thing about tabloid journalism, Hart would’ve been taken to task for treating women like sex objects. Even the tagline at the end of the movie, before the credits roll, says “Gary and Lee Hart remain married to this day.” That seems to imply, even to the very end, that what he did to his wife, is none of our business (something Hart says at least twice in the movie). Hart also said in this movie, that because of things like this, the best people won’t run for office. Uh, two things about that. It didn’t stop Trump, who had more skeletons in his closet than every presidential candidate combined. And, I’d like to ask Hart if…a person cheats on their wife, does that really make them “the best.”

The stories are all a bit underdeveloped, but it’s a solid cast. Aside from loving J.K. Simmons in this, comedians Bill Burr and Kevin Pollock are excellent in their scenes as well.

It’s just hard to forgive a movie that’s being so sympathetic to Hart (oh, it also left out that he jumped back into the campaign after quitting, and that he had a debt of over $1 million from his first campaign in 1984).

You probably won’t be bored watching it, though. It’s also one of the rare times the shaky camera didn’t bother me, because it created a the type of chaos a campaign can have.

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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