Can a person ever really be “cancelled”? I used to think not. Supposedly radioactive celebrities still manage to land lucrative Netflix specials, sell out stadiums, and win illustrious awards. But what happens when they don’t? You end up with a film like My Son Hunter.
The political satire, released today online, focuses on Hunter Biden, the son of the sitting US president. It stars Laurence Fox as Hunter, John James as Joe Biden, and Gina Carano as the narrator, a secret service agent invented for the purposes of the film. Fox, an actor whose early films include Robert Altman’s Gosford Park and Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, has become a self-professed “cancelled” person in recent years, thanks to widely criticised remarks on issues such as Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and trans rights. Carano, a former wrestler, is also said to have been “cancelled”; her recurring stint on the hit Star Wars series The Mandalorian came to an acrimonious end last year following a string of social media posts about Jewish people, Covid, gender and election fraud.
Directed by Robert Davi and distributed via the far-right media platform Breitbart News, My Son Hunter is a pretty bald-faced work of conservative agitprop. It borrows from the real lives of the Bidens – though is careful to stipulate at the beginning that it “is not a true story” (coyly adding “… except for all the facts”). The film revels in the younger Biden’s well-publicised issues with substance abuse and addiction, as well as the “scandal” involving his laptop, and some of his business dealings. It paints Joe Biden, meanwhile, as a senile, lecherous crook. One scene sees him hold his mobile phone upside down and talk about a “quid pro crow”. Another sees him fetishistically sniff Carano’s hair.
To say that My Son Hunter is bad would almost be beside the point. Shot on a small budget, with its intended audience a handful of diehard Maga-heads, this is a niche film for a niche market. You couldn’t even really call it preaching to the choir; this is sermonising to the Vatican itself.
One can only imagine the whiplash Carano must be experiencing; to go from the lavish bombast of a Star Wars set to something like this is a sheer drop indeed. For her part, she’s truly dreadful here, garbed in an ill-fitting suit and delivering lines with an affect that makes her turgid, forgettable Mandalorian character look like Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln in comparison. Fox throws himself into the role of Hunter with considerably more gusto, hamming up every drug hit and capricious mood change, but there’s no getting around how debasing the material is. The nadir – not just of the film, but probably of Fox’s whole screen career – may be the scene in which a drug-addled Hunter stumbles around a party before having a lengthy conversation with a dog, expressed on the screen via crudely rendered thought bubbles. Woof.
Another scene begins with a character sitting by a laptop and saying: “I can’t seem to find anything but positive stuff on the Bidens.” “That’s because you’re using Google and the mainstream media,” replies her friend. “You have to use the alternative search engine.” It frankly defies belief. My Son Hunter is the kind of film that depicts a Black Lives Matter protest as a fire-strewn war zone and ends with a fantasy sequence in which Hunter Biden is arrested and Donald Trump wins re-election. Much of the film – including its callous handling of addiction, and the shamelessly cynical framing of its sole Black character – would be truly revolting if it weren’t so inept in its artistry.
The issue, I suppose, is that no matter how laughable My Son Hunter is, there is at least a soupçon of reality to it. Several times, the film had me rushing to Google, where I discovered that this or that piece of unflattering Biden trivia was in fact rooted in truth. (I guess the search engine’s “pro-Biden” filter must have been malfunctioning for the day.)
Perhaps my favourite discovery from the film was Biden’s supposed confrontation with a gang leader known as “Cornpop” in his youth. (According to Biden, he stared down the razorblade-wielding Cornpop at a swimming pool while grasping a 6ft metal chain. In the film, this anecdote is brought up out of nowhere, mid-conversation, by a rambling, almost delirious Biden.) Other nuggets spun from news headlines are less amusing; extensive scrutiny is placed on Hunter’s business dealings with China (inflated here into a massive conspiracy). I’m reminded of how Succession’s fictional right-wing media tycoon Logan Roy described his own news ethos: “A bit of f***in’ spice; a bit of fun; a bit of truth.” In its own brashly tacky way, that’s what My Son Hunter is trying to do.
Wherever you happen to fall on the political spectrum, it is often hard to conjure much sincere sympathy for celebrities: a waning Hollywood career would, frankly, be a luxurious problem for most people to have. But it’s hard not to shed a small tear for Carano and Fox, who have made their beds and now seem intent on lying in them – feculent, lice-ridden sheets and all.