Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Review: Mitt

Directed by: Greg Whiteley.

If there is a reason to see Mitt – Greg Whiteley’s documentary about Mitt Romney during his run for President in 2012 – it is to see a more human side of Romney, who during his run for President always struck me as more than little robotic – as if someone, somewhere put together the seemingly perfect Republican candidate in a lab somewhere. This is not a film that is likely to change anyone’s mind about Romney – and I don’t think it even sets out to do so. Strangely for a documentary about a politician, the film is almost devoid of any actual politics. It doesn’t probe Romney on his beliefs, it doesn’t celebrate his politics nor does it demonize Obama. It does show the now infamous cell phone video where Romney says 47% of the country have their hand out and will never vote against Obama because of it. It also shows Romney talking about his reputation as a flip-flopper – both in 2008 and 2012 – but it doesn’t delve very deeply into those issues as well. The movie assumes you already know where Romney stood on the issues – and where Obama stood – and doesn’t try to convince you one way or the other. What it does do is to show Romney with his wife, his family, sometimes his staffers and the ups and downs of a campaign that was obviously tough on all of them.

This intimate look at Romney may have done him some good had it been released before the election – or if he was ever going to run for anything ever again, which he isn’t. In private, he seems like a much more genuine person that he did while on the campaign trail – someone who clearly loves his family, and can quote the Coen brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou from memory. As a candidate, Romney always struck me as out of touch with regular people – he had been born and raised rich, and never truly understood what many others go through – but in the documentary, it does seem like he understood more than it appeared he did – he just had difficulty getting that across.

This is one of the things documentaries do a far better job at than a dramatic movie would. Watching the film, I felt I got to know a little bit about Romney for the first time – and dammit, even like him a little. He seems genuine and friendly – he undeniably loves his wife, who made an easy target because of her show horses – and his children, who obviously love and idolize him. Whiteley was with the Romney’s for so long – starting in 2008 and then again in 2012 – that everyone seems to get used to him – one of Romney’s grandkids greets him by name at one point, and one of Romney’s sons gives him two answers to the same question – the answer for the “media” and how he really feels.

None of this convinced me that Romney would have made a better President than Obama or makes me wish he would have won. Many of his beliefs are still the precise opposite of mine, and I think had he been elected, America would have regressed instead of moving forward on many social issues. I still find much of what Romney stands for to be abhorrent – and so while even though Obama has struggled to get much of anything accomplished since the election, I’d still rather it be him in office than Romney.

But Mitt shows Romney in a more human light – something we really get to see about prominent politicians, who always seem to be “on” every time someone with a camera is around. Everything is a photo op, even seemingly “natural” family gatherings. Mitt shows the candidate and his family as actual human beings – and that’s something.

As a documentary, Mitt is hit and miss. There must have been a lot of footage, so some of the inclusions are puzzling – and at times, scenes run on way longer than they should, as no one says anything of interest for a few minutes at a time. I also think a more daring film could have addressed some of the political issues surrounding the election, without giving up the human element that director Whiteley clearly prized above all else. Yet, unlike last year’s Our Nixon, which used home movies to apparently show us a different side of Richard Nixon (and, I felt, ended up simply re-telling the same Nixon story we already knew – and in a less interesting way than normal) – Mitt actually does succeed in showing us a side of Romney that I had not seen before. I’m not sure if that makes the documentary truly good, but it at least made it interesting.

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