‘The Front Runner’ Is a Real Bummer

It Needed That Iannucci Touch

I saw The Front Runner movie. It tells the dramatic story of how Gary Hart almost became President but then didn’t because a pharmaceutical sales rep sat on his lap on a boat in Florida called Monkey Business. The movie takes itself very seriously. Even though we see Hart on the boat, we don’t see the lap-sitting. In this picture, no one gets to have fun, especially the audience.

It begins with a flurry of snappy political dialogue that wants to be funny but isn’t, like director Jason Reitman watched some old Robert Altman outtakes and decided to give homage a shot. Soon enough, though, the movie turns static and drippy. It does have an exciting sequence in the middle where some Miami Herald reporters stake out Hart’s D.C. townhouse. But then it gets morose again.


THE FRONT RUNNER ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Matt Bai, Jason Reitman, Jay Carson
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina
Running time: 113 min.


 

I kept thinking how much better this all would have been in the hands of Armando Iannucci. He covers the same territory in Veep, but much better. His The Death Of Stalin was probably 2017’s best movie. That film covered an actually important and tragic period in history, and Iannucci still managed to turn it into a screwball comedy. Reitman takes a mostly-forgotten sex scandal and turns it into a flat and maudlin lecture on media ethics.

It’s not like the comic possibilities weren’t there. Reitman directed Juno, for pity’s sake. Two of the employees at the Miami Herald are played by Bill Burr and Kevin Pollak. That should be the coolest newspaper of all time, with insults and profanity flying out the door. But it reads pretty flat. Meanwhile at The Washington Post, Alfred Molina is Bill Bradlee but he actually looks like Chef Boyardee.

Reitman also hired J.K. Simmons, one of our finest actors, to play Hart’s chief political operative. But unlike Peter Capaldi in Iannucci’s In The Loop, a similar-type role, Simmons doesn’t get any snappy dialogue. He just mopes around and acts mildly sexist.

Sure, Hugh Jackman is magnetic and muscular as Gary Hart. But Jackman could star in a California Raisins biopic and still carry the day. Vera Farmiga, not heard from in a while, plays his wife Lee, and she’s fine, but she could have been so much better-written. If Steve Buscemi can curse and soft-shoe his way through playing Nikita Khrushchev, then for god’s sake, we should be able to mine Gary Hart, another self-serious Kennedy wannabe who couldn’t keep it in his pants, for comic possibilities.

This concludes my review of The Front Runner movie.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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