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But How Gay is ‘The Front Runner’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is The Front Runner? Jason Reitman’s eighth feature film as a director — and second this year — tells the story of Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart. Don’t know Hart? He was the front-runner (the titular role!) in the 1988 Democratic primary, only to be derailed by accusations of an affair with a woman named Donna Rice. His political aspirations were brought down, and we wound up with George H.W. Bush as president, which established the Bush dynasty and threw us into several unnecessary and costly wars.

So basically, The Front Runner should be about how we got to where we are now as a country. Unfortunately, Reitman’s film — co-written by him, Matt Bai, and Jay Carson, and adapted from Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid — is far more interested in railing against the press than it is in anything else. You’ve never seen a movie that hates the media more than this one! Feel free to use that line on the posters.

Who’s in it? Hugh Jackman plays Hart, in what we’d call a misguided performance. Hart has no real ebbs-and-flows in this movie; he’s angry in public that the press dares to ask questions about his personal life, while he’s sad in private that this is affecting his family. That’s basically it. There’s not much more to the performance or the role.

Faring far better is Vera Farmiga as Hart’s wife, Lee, whose brand of defiant vulnerability works perfectly in the role. In fact, the actresses in the film are leagues above the actors as a whole. Sara Paxton and Molly Ephraim share the movie’s most impressive scenes, as Donna Rice (Paxton) processes her emotions with the help of Hart aide Irene Kelly (Ephraim). Watching their story, I immediately wanted the whole film to focus on them. Whereas the Gary Hart-centric portions of The Front Runner feel very standard biopic, basically repeating the same beats over and over, the Rice/Kelly scenes present something new.

Combined with Farmiga’s scenes, they present this idea of women being made to bear the responsibility of men’s failures. A better movie would’ve seen the way those scenes sparkle, and refocused on them. Instead, we get mere glimmers before going back to moping around with Gary Hart.

Why should I see it? I didn’t say you should. It’s fine, but honestly, the amount of press-bashing in this movie is downright Trumpian. I was a little sick to my stomach watching it.

But how gay is it? It’s not. Like most Democratic candidates before roughly 2012, The Front Runner ignores gays. If I were feeling generous, I’d stretch and say that the Harts’ approach to marriage — at least, what we can tell of it from this odd movie — is queer-ish. But I’m not feeling like stretching today.

Hasn’t there been some revelation about the Gary Hart case recently? So, yes, but we’re not entirely sure about how. The Atlantic recently reported that, on his deathbed, conservative political operative Lee Atwater confessed to framing Hart. One of the reporters for The Miami-Herald working on the story back then, however, has pushed back against Atwater’s confession. So it’s not entirely clear. Rest assured, though, that this is a story we may never hear the full extent of in our lifetimes.

How does this compare to Tully, Jason Reitman’s other movie this year? Tully is a near-miracle of a movie, so tender and gracious without ever giving up its remarkable strength. The Front Runner is a media-loathing mess that runs away from interesting stories the second it happens upon them. Suffice it to say, we’d prefer Reitman exclusively work with Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron from now on.

The Front Runner is in theaters now.


Kevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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