Frontrunners

"Extraordinary"

Frontrunners Review


In Frontrunners, Caroline Suh's ebullient celebration of the arcane democratic impulse in this country, a student at New York City's Stuyvesant High School succinctly states the central trauma of American life today as he comments on an impeding student government election at the school: "If we don't have faith in our normal government, why should we have faith in a bunch of teenagers." But this attitude is what Suh is attempting to turn on its head as she follows four very motivated teens (well, maybe three) as they take to the campaign trail to win the hearts and minds of their fellow students at Stuyvesant.

Stuyvesant is no run-of-the-mill high school. It is the pillar of the New York City high school system, accepting only 3% of the 25,000 hopefuls who apply for admission annually. As such, the tenor of the institution is less hotwire than a typical low-end high school located in Bed-Stuy. Based on Suh's perspective in the film, the students at her version of Stuyvesant appear all well scrubbed and innocent, with the specters of drugs, sex, or violence as foreign to them as the films of Lois Weber. So, when the students run their election campaigns, it is played with the relentless intensity of smug, self-satisfied highbrows -- little Keith Olbermanns in sneakers. The standard is taken up by George Zisiadis, a lean and energetic go-getter (a kinder, gentler Sammy Glick) running for student council president, who introduces the film as "Stuyvesant High School for gifted men and women... as ourselves."

George is the most wired of the candidates running for the job, speaking with a passion that gets ahead of him as he pontificates on synergy and slaps himself on the back by reaching a eureka moment with the slogan for his campaign ("'Change in the S.U. starts with you!' ... let me absorb my brilliance.").

And the other contenders are no small potatoes. Hannah Frieman is an attractive over-achiever who wants to add the moniker "Class President" to her burnished credentials. Mike Zaytsev wants to turbo-charge a new student union and is just caffeinated enough to do it. And refreshing amid all these Rushmore clones is Alex Leonard - a laid-back guy who, when questioned about why he is running for student council president, responds by saying, "It was kind of a spur of the moment thing for me." To which his running mate Zakia remarks, "I did it because he asked me to." Poor Alex is running as the darkest of dark horses - he refuses to print up campaign literature with the excuse that he is saving the environment, hangs out in the hallway and mutters for kids to vote for him, and has friends telling him not to get too cocky. I don't think I'm giving anything away in saying that Alex doesn't make it through the primaries.

Suh's breezy take on the Stuyvesant elections layers on interviews, meetings, and montages, and provides a Greek chorus commentary with Jon, a pundit for the school paper, and Mr. Polazzo, the Coordinator of Student Affairs, who has seen it all before.

Students are also corralled into speaking on the validity of the elections. One student remarks, "Are they going to make better school lunches? Because that's what I want." And there is the girl in the Antigone shirt who sees the elections as nothing more than a stepping stone for the four candidates to get into top-rung universities (as she remarks about her own class ranking, "I don't even want to say it out loud." - she's doomed at being #36).

In the end, when the "where are they now" title cards pop up and we see that the candidates have headed on to the Ivy League universities and certain status and success, it is both uplifting and sad. With their innocent idealism in tow, the kids have headed out into the world to become the newest versions of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

Lounge the vote.



Frontrunners

Facts and Figures

Run time: 83 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 15th October 2008

Distributed by: Oscilloscope Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Caroline Suh

Producer: Erika Frankel

Contactmusic


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