The Front Runner, Jason Reitman’s dramatization of the three-week rise and fall of Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign, works best in its first half, as fleet-footed, wisecracking campaign/newsroom comedy/drama. If you’re old enough, the names and details will all roll right back – Hart, Donna Rise, the “Monkey Business” – and as Senator Hart, Hugh Jackman manages to replicate both his righteousness and his charisma (and the trouble the latter would cause).
The back half, in which big questions are asked about Who We Are and What We’ve Become, is less successful; Reitman overstates and oversimplifies his themes, and his attempts to connect to the present don’t hold water (this was the beginning of the end of the separation of news and tabloid, we’re told, but Trump was the quintessential tabloid candidate, and he was elected anyway). But it offers some complexities with regard to gender; Donna Rice (played, sharply, by Sara Paxton) is given real dimension, and when Post reporter Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor) explains that her real problem with Hart is that “I just don’t think he respects women,” well, that is a connection to current events worth drawing.
“I had a book on the New York Times bestseller list,” Lee Israel insists. “This has to count for something!” Turns out it doesn’t; Lee is going through a rough patch, in which she can’t keep a job, can’t pay her rent, and can’t get an advance (“I don’t think the world is waiting on another Fanny Brice biography,” her agent informs her). So she finds herself, as she puts it, “embellishing documents.”
Lee’s is a true story, told in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, adapted from Israel’s memoir for the new film by Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl). It’s a wicked, witty treat, with Melissa McCarthy playing Israel as an unapologetically unlikable protagonist, and batting around some truly delicious dialogue with Richard E. Grant, as pretty much her only friend. Some of the exposition is clumsy, and this may just be a movie for writers (and their nightmares). But I didn’t want it to end.