The great American student-government election: Teenagers exposing their fragile egos to public ballot-box rejection and spending a small fortune on poster board, all for the possible distinction of assigning homecoming subcommittees and allocating school funds for a laminator. This is the stuff of which Frontrunners is made. Caroline Suh's doc exists somewhere between Robert Drew's Primary and reality TV, following the 2007 election cycle at New York City's cream-of-the-crop Stuyvesant High School, where the student (busy)body is made up of potential valedictorians from every borough. That the student-government "popularity contest" is a microcosm of the adult political arena is an old saw—see Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s perennially quoted "High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of." To that idea we owe primary-season thinkpieces recasting Alexander Payne's Election with Barack and Hillary, as well as Frontrunners' savvy election-eve release date. Tactfully keeping away from actual policy details and emotionally sticky stuff, cutting for punch lines, and overlaying campaigning montages with a playlist shuffle of kazoo-whimsical indie feyness, Suh shows herself ever-happy to settle for the shallow rewards of pop documentary here. Depending on your level of fatigue with our recent campaign season, this may be good enough.
Campaign season starts early.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Nov. 28–Wed., Dec. 3. Not rated. 80 minutes.