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« We Can't Wait #6: Into the Woods | Main | Yes, No, Maybe So: Maleficent »
Wednesday
Jan292014

Sundance / Netflix Instant: 'Mitt' Stays on the Surface

Here's a leftover from Sundance that's also playing on Netflix Instant - Michael Cusumano on "Mitt".   

In one scene from Greg Whiteley’s documentary about the two failed presidential runs of the former governor of Massachusetts, Romney complains bitterly about Candy Crowley's interference in the second debate, which led to the infamous “Please proceed, Governor” moment. According to Mitt it was not the moderator’s place to comment or press the candidate for answers.

If that’s what annoys Mitt, then he will have no issues with Mitt, which takes a hands off approach to the Romney campaign and comes at it from a home movie angle with lots of interviews with Anne Romney and various Romney sons lamenting how tough it is to see their loveable old Mitt take this abuse from the media, and how much the country would adore him if they could look past politics and get to know the “real” Mitt Romney. As if those who opposed him did so not because of policy but because they didn’t realize how great he is with his grandkids...

The defining moments of the campaign are glimpsed, the 47% video, the $10,000 bet, but the film never catches the nominee or his advisors reacting to them or digging into how they happened in the first place. Romney is exasperated that he can’t shake the label of “the flipping Mormon” and there is a fair point to be made about how the media finds a narrative and sticks to it, but at no point does anyone press the candidate to explain his various contortions over the years as he went from trying to get to the left of Ted Kennedy in his senate run, to trying to get to the right of Rick Santorum in his presidential run.

Instead we get a lot of  “Candidates: They Are Just Like Us” moments. Mitt goes sledding with his grandkids, Mitt gets nervous before the big debate and starts cleaning up all the garbage in his hotel room, Mitt cracks up listening to David Sedaris on NPR. That would be an ideal time to ask, “Hey Governor, does your love of David Sedaris give you any pause about being so gung ho about denying him and his partner full equality under the law or is that position merely a craven political calculation you don’t actually believe?” but alas, nobody seizes the moment.

If Mitt is going to be short on political revelations, Mitt could still succeed by being a movie about personalities, like Pennebaker’s great The War Room, but unfortunately for the filmmakers, Mitt is as exactly as dull up close as he appear to be from back in the cheap seats. For die-hard political junkie like myself there is innate fascination with watching any behind-the-scenes moments from a presidential campaign I followed with a laser focus for over a year, but that’s about as far as the appeal of Mitt goes. The tagline for Mitt urges us to see things from a different side, but we leave the film feeling that we had Mitt pretty well pegged from the start.

Grade:
Distribution: Currently available on Netflix Instant Watch 

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Reader Comments (3)

I'm not sure I agree with this review. Is it fair to have wanted this documentary to have at least attempted to relitigate Mitt's campaign politics? Sure. Would a 'War Room' style doc have been more fascinating? Yep. Is it fair to rate this film, which clearly had different designs, according to one's own politics and expectations? No. This is family flick. The campaigns shut out the director's cameras...what else exactly was he supposed to shoot?

In the end, the film gives you a different glimpse at Mitt and his family. He's surprisingly reflective, self deprecating, and realistic. That plastic technocrat public persona is forgotten. Ann's ice queen persona is put in perspective. And I never once felt (even though I couldn't stand Mitt as a politician) that these folks wouldn't be kind of cool to spend time with as a family. You also get to see that the family's faith is legit and earnest and wasn't just a campaign ploy. The same can be said of the Romney's marriage. I think that was the point of the documentary. No more. No less.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKBJr

KBJr –

If the family stuff went deeper I might agree with you but I thought even that was a pretty shallow take. Lots of repetitious scenes of Romneys stating that it would all be better if the public knew Mitt like they did. I can get that level of fluff from any interview Anne Romney did on the campaign trail. The idea that a candidate is actually more complex and nuanced than his campaign trail caricature is a pretty underwhelming revelation. I loathe Romney as a public figure but I never had any doubt that he was probably a decent enough person to have a conversation with and not the Dickensian villain his gaffes made him out to be.

Even if the film couldn’t gain access to the most secret strategy sessions of the campaign there was still a story to tell in how this so-called “real Mitt Romney” became a caricature of an uncaring plutocrat with no core convictions, but the film doesn’t scratch that surface. It just states that the caricature is out there, as if it happened independent of Mitt’s actions. In my view, to spend this much time with a figure at the center of the political universe and come away with no insight greater than, “Campaigns are difficult but his family loves still him” marks this is a minor film.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cusumano

It's just.... fine.

But imagine had he gotten elected president and we found out POTUS ironed his own shirts while wearing it?

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

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