In the middle of his life Hunter Biden has emerged as a Gen X icon. The circumstances of his family have allowed him to reverse the trajectory of his generation’s preferred cliché life paths, going from sellout to burnout and commanding international notoriety in the process. Say we compare him to the members of Nirvana: Kurt Cobain, the genius burnout who died by his own hand; Krist Novoselic, who has followed fame with obscure eccentricity, bordering on crankery; and Dave Grohl, the sellout survivor coasting on the tides of dad rock blandness from arena to arena for three decades. Biden’s arc has been something like Grohl-Cobain-Novoselic: he suppressed his artistic ambitions for life as an itinerant corporate placeholder, father, and husband; then descended into divorce and drug addiction in his 40s; now, past 50, paints and tries to keep his second marriage together.
This week Breitbart releases the first of what are sure to be myriad Hunter Biden biopics. My Son Hunter, directed by Robert Davi, is set mostly over one long night in December 2019. It follows Grace “Kitty” Anderson (Emma Gojkovic), a fictional stripper, into the orbit of the then–presidential candidate’s son (Laurence Fox) — from the club where she performs to his suite at the Chateau Marmont — and out of it. Overnight she has listened to Hunter’s confessions — about his addictions to drugs and sex, his affair with his brother’s widow, and his “influence peddling” in Ukraine and China — and has left with a recording of them provided by his perfidious bodyguard Tyrone (Franklin Ayodele). She hopes to spread word of his family’s misdeeds to the world, but even a reporter for the New York Post turns her down. She dreams of turning the tide and swinging the election to the incumbent, but that’s all it is: just a dream. On the bright side, she reconciles with her estranged father, previously known only as an “asshole.”
Should we expect propaganda films from the American right wing to make sense? The nonsense in My Son Hunter begins with dating the action to December 2019, the month the FBI came into possession of the laptop he’d left at a Wilmington repair shop. By this time Hunter Biden was purportedly clean and had for months been married to Melissa Cohen. Kitty is shown participating in a BLM protest that involves a lot of things being set on fire — several months before the death of George Floyd. The anachronisms don’t stop there, but it would be pointless to dwell on them. As a secret service agent (Gina Carano) tells us, “This is not a true story, except for all the facts.”
Carano’s agent is not the film’s narrator, and most of the characters in My Son Hunter break the fourth wall, to the point of abuse. I’m tempted to blame Adam McKay, whose adaptation of The Big Short ushered in superfluous little documentary-style explainer bits into narrative film, a tendency I’ve noticed proliferating elsewhere and come to think of as Voxification — yet another tedious liberal activity further debased on the right. There are worse tics in My Son Hunter. After Hunter invites the crowd from the backroom at the strip club back to the Chateau, he does a line of blow, and we see a cartoon representation of his heart. It starts beating faster — “OH SHIT!” a caption says — as he walks through the room until he sits down and smokes crack, calming his heart. This is a misunderstanding of crack smoking that recurs throughout the film — Hunter seems to use it like Xanax or pot, to relieve anxiety — but whatever: he also chugs nameless pills out of a bottle and pulls a T-shirt off over his head with a lit cigarette in his mouth without burning it or himself.
The film’s deepest flaw is structural. Most of the action is a counterpoint between scenes of Hunter in the back of a limo discussing damage control, and Kitty and Tyrone looking up the Bidens online. Here’s how that conversation goes:
Kitty: [Holding a laptop.] I can’t seem to find anything but positive stuff on the Bidens.
Tyrone: That’s because you’re using Google and the mainstream media. You have to use the alternative search engine. [Takes the laptop.] Here let me show you.
Kitty: [Grimaces.] You sound like an alt-right white supremecist.
Tyrone: Yeah, Kitty, I’m the Black face of white supremacy. [They laugh.]
From here the film is a series of flashback dramatizations of shady dealings in Ukraine and China, spiked with clips from Fox News (famously only available via alternative search engines). The gangster scenes and backroom business deals are cookie-cutter stuff. A few scenes are true to Hunter Biden’s attestation of his own life. We see him kick passed-out revelers out of his suite after he hallucinates a puppy who tells him he’s surrounded by freeloaders who aren’t his friends. The puppy and the androgynous person whose lap it sits on are a creative touch, but this is faithful to the stance Biden takes on his erstwhile party friends in his memoir — a lot of them stole his credit cards. We see him have a gun pulled on him when he goes to a homeless encampment where he goes to buy crack — also accurate, though by the time he moved into the Chateau he was cooking his own stuff because purchasing powder cocaine is more “genteel.” His affair with his brother’s widow is dispatched in two rather bland flashback shots. A lot of good material is left on the table.
Alas, the right did not bring its A team to this project. Where is James Woods? Where is Jon Voight? Either would have made a better Joe Biden than John James, the former Dynasty star who pondered a run for Congress as a Republican in 2014 and used to command mobs of female fans when he turned up at provincial malls in the 1980s. His main twist on the character is to say “Here’s the deal” a lot. Fox as Hunter says the phrase a few times too, though his main acting technique is wincing. Like Hunter Biden, Laurence Fox is a dynast, the son of James Fox, a star of the 1960s British New Wave classics The Servant and Performance. Laurence has lately gone from starring in the detective series Lewis and marriage to Doctor Who sidekick Billie Piper to running a failed 2021 mayoral campaign in London for the fringe Reclaim Party, which bills itself as “UKIP for Culture.” Carano, famous as a mixed martial arts fighter and star of the Steven Soderberg thriller Haywire (2011), was canned by Disney from The Mandalorian after she compared the fate of Jews in the Holocaust to the predicament of Trump supporters “hated for their political views” in an Instagram post. Perhaps it’s impossible to make great art, or effective propaganda, out of spite. Or maybe these guys are, like their subject, just career hacks. Robert Davi first gained fame for playing Jake Fratelli, nemesis of several Gen X icons in The Goonies. Once again, he is foiled.
Who is the audience for this film? Gojkovic is the only principal whose political affiliations aren’t easy to find with a quick Google search. Her Kitty is also an innocent. “Don’t judge me,” she tells the mirror in the dressing room at the strip club, “I’m only doing this to pay off my student loans.” The screenplay by Matt Godowa, a prolific author of biblical adventure novels, frames the film as a narrative of her conversion from BLM protestor to good girl who comes home to daddy, even turning down an offer from Hunter to pay off her student loans if she accepts a three-year retainer. So the real fantasy of My Son Hunter is for right-wing Boomer parents: with a little of the information about the Democrats’ corruption that the mainstream media is busy suppressing, their children will come in from the streets and help them put Trump back in office. If that happens, I doubt it will be the result of the youth vote or a renaissance in reactionary cinema.
Christian Lorentzen is a writer living in Brooklyn.