Like refusing to show the planting of the American flag on the moon in THE FIRST MAN, the infamous Monkey Business photo is missing in THE FRONT RUNNER. Whose agenda is being served? What I came away with after seeing THE FRONT RUNNER was, no matter how Hugh Jackman tried to temper his characterization of 1984 presidential candidate Gary Hart, the man comes off as cold, indifferent to others, unfriendly and not amused by anything. Sure, his politics were in the right place, but if Hugh Jackman – who said he has become Hart’s friend - cannot give him any softness then how are we to feel sorry for him?
Gary Hart did have an affair and there was, what at the time was enough, a photograph. If it had been 2015, Hart could have blown it off.Things were morally different in 1984. Hell, flop sweat in 1960 doomed presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon during the nationally televised first of four presidential debates with Sen. John F. Kennedy. In 1972, presidential candidate Edmund Muskie’s stifled sob of “snowflake” tears was considered political suicide, and the crying incident is cited as the reason he dropped his bid for president. What has changed? We have become a nation of pleasure seekers. Are you faithful to your spouse because you want to be, or you have no opportunities? Or, another way of expressing this sentiment: Do the homeless have exciting sex lives? Once a man becomes president – at least going back in history to JFK and LBJ – affairs were not covered by the media. There was respect for the office, or, the media was frightened of Lady Bird and liked JFK too much to smear the myth of Camelot.
The screenplay by its director Jason Reitman, Matt Bai (who wrote the book the film is based on, All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid), and Jay Carson, clearly sympathizes with Hart. This is obvious. There were compelling rumors of Hart’s womanizing and a brief separation from his wife, Lee (Vera Farmiga). The filmmakers do not show us any extra-marital relationships at all; instead, we slog through his huge campaign staff and how they dealt with the exposé. Wait! Hart does smile at a young female staff intern! Gary is never shown with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). Yes, she is photographed in shadow leaving his D.C. apartment. That infamous photo aboard the Monkey Business is never shown. Gary is on board the yacht and he and a blond woman get up and walk off but is that an indication they went and had sex? After the scandal breaks, he never even calls her. Or, has all this been intentionally left out? And if it did unfold this way, Gary treated Donna terribly. His campaign manager, Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), handles a weeping Donna Rice.If Rice did not know who Hart was, that he was a married man and running for public office, I could sympathize with her tears. But she also is to blame.
What was in Gary Hart’s mind when he allowed that photograph to be taken? Was he reckless? Was he reckless and drunk? Did he ask for a copy? The scene between Gary and Lee clarifies their relationship and the structure of their marriage. Lee tells him that the only thing she asked of him was not to embarrass her. Some things are expected, and high-profile wives are a developed breed of racehorse – their self-interests, their own sense of privilege and power, and steel resolve – with skills most women could not handle easily. Or, I always consider – are they tired of their husbands and could care less about their demanding sexual needs? If your mega-billionaire husband and father of your children needed to be whipped by a dominatrix once a month, would you divorce him or let him act out his perversion while you went couture shopping in Paris? What is indicated by THE FRONT RUNNER is that this implied affair with Donna Rice was a one-off and the media’s attention to it drove Hart to give up seeking his party’s nomination for president. Or, and I have nothing to base this on but my jaded view of human nature, was there so much that could have been exposed that his team decided to put it all to rest quickly. The investigation into the private life of Gary Hart ended.
Jackman is terrific. He really gets the ratified air that surrounded Gary Hart’s political life. Jackman shows that Hart was incensed that anyone would even attempt to ask a personal question. His private life was no one’s business. He was insulted at being questioned. Jackman shows us Hart’s anger at the common people’s desire to read about him in PEOPLE magazine. This type of campaigning was beneath him. The large cast will be familiar to anyone who watches HBO: there is Alex Karpovsky from GIRLS, Josh Brener from SILICON VALLEY, and Chris Coy from THE DEUCE. And then there is one of my favorite genius comedians, Bill Burr. Anthony Jeselnik (THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS) is my favorite, but he doesn’t do as many specials as Burr. I hope Burr does not give up stand-up to be in movies.
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Victoria Alexander is a member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's moviereviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to:rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/