V Campaigns Against THE FRONT RUNNER!!!
The old saying goes something like, "When the fact becomes the legend, print the legend." "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" made for legendary material. Gary Hart should've too. It was the original presidential sexual tabloid scandal that makes up today's constantly churning political news cycle. The story, lies or truth, were extreme for the time considering that presidents were just allowed to screw around before this. Now, not so much. This was a fantastic story to be told, that could've been tackled from any direction and made exciting. Somehow, it wasn't.
Jason Reitman has always been an interesting director. Definitely hit or miss on the critical and/or entertainment scale, but always someone that draws me to the theater. Even if he fails, he fails in an interesting way. He has always been able to find the most interesting part of his characters and put them on display. It might not always be a success, but you do walk away feeling you saw something original and your time was not wasted. THE FRONT RUNNER wasted my time.
For the first time, Jason Reitman managed to find a way to make a fascinating story, uninteresting. He was able to take a story so sensational it triggered the current gossip age of American politics and turn it into a dose of Ambien, only less fun.
This was a film I was extremely excited to see. I had expectations, but lets put those aside. Let's examine the film for what it is rather than what I would've liked it to be.
The film centers around the up and coming senator out of Colorado, Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), the presumptive next president of the United States in the run-up to the 1988 election. Gary's family supports him. His two kids seem extremely comfortable sharing parts of their lives that would've been considered taboo at the time. His wife, Lee Hart (Vera Farmiga), is 100% supportive and forgiving to a fault. After all, these were the days when presidents and high profile political figures could carry on extra-marital affairs and the fourth estate would turn the other cheek; a point that is hammered home at the beginning of the film.
With all of this going on for him Gary still can't help but carry on a short but infamous affair with Donna Rice (yes, that Donna Rice). This choice and many successive choices make the character unlikeable. Reitman is unapologetic in this way. He does not let Gary Hart or his team off the hook for how they treat his family and Donna, but he also never lets the press off the hook for allowing tabloid fodder to become front page news. Again, this would be all good and well if the story was interesting. It rates somewhere between an excellent Lifetime movie and a low-grade HBO Film with a stellar cast.
The movie never uses the language of cinema to really make its point. The characters may come out and say that tabloid journalism is now in the mainstream, but we never are fully engaged in that historical transition. It is a big story that gave very little value at a journalistic level to make its case on the big screen. On the other hand, on a personal level, Vera Farming is fantastic as Lee Hart, Sara Paxton is thoroughly believable as Donna Rice and all the other actors involved do well to pay service to their characters. In this way, the film is a partial success. I say partially only because even on a personal level Reitman spreads the character work too thin. We are never given the time to invest in any single character.
This film will not go down as a career killer and may even be deemed award-worthy in some circles. Reitman simply swung for the fences and missed.
V Versus the World