Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, one of the nation’s most prestigious and exclusive public schools (only the top 3% of applicants are accepted), provides the battleground for a hard-fought presidential election in “Frontrunners,” as four tickets vie for head of the student union. Producer Caroline Suh, in her directorial debut, positions her docu to reflect larger political goings-on, but the sophistication and intelligence of the student body tends to skew any extrapolated insights. Ultimately, pic’s fascination lies with the personalities and strategies of the candidates themselves. Well-crafted docu, which bows Oct. 15 at Gotham’s Film Forum, could score moderate ancillary success.
Pic begins two weeks before the first round of elections, which will narrow the field by half. Cool, confident, cocky even, hiding his real desire to serve behind exaggerated nonchalance, Russian-born Mike Zaytsev coasts on past success as sophomore class president. Indeed, his presumption of at least a primary victory drives running mate Marta Bralic crazy, as she has a very different vision of what’s necessary to win.
In contrast, George Zisiadis works incessantly to gain votes and influence people. His Asian running mate, Vanessa Charbhumi (the school is roughly 50% Asian), acts more like a foil, rolling her eyes at Zisiadis’more outrageous statements as he half-kiddingly extols his own genius. By far the weirdest candidate (his resume: Greek dance, bowling, founder of the juggling club and sole propagator of “The Lounge,” a jerry-rigged enclave where students come for instant Socratic therapy), Zisiadis sees the presidency as far more than an extracurricular coup for college admission.
Popular, red-headed Hannah Freiman burns on all cylinders as head of the cheerleading and dance squads, as well as a member of the theater group (she has already starred in several school productions and appeared in Todd Solondz’s “Palindromes”), her fierce competitiveness a source of energy rather than aggression.
Finally, dark horse Alex Leonard, who tossed in his hat on a lark, barely bothers to campaign, disappearing from the race, and the film, early on.
Unlike the hilarious excesses and daunting deficiencies on display in the middle-school elections of Vanessa Roth’s highly entertaining “The Third Monday in October,” Stuyvesant’s competition, though quite media-savvy (featuring Photoshopped campaign posters, inhouse televised debates and an all-important endorsement by the school paper), never feels overblown, with nary a Tracy Flick in sight. Even the crowning low blow, delivered during the big debate, is iterated with utmost civility.