Film review: ‘Mitt’

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

A few lofty assertions are made about the Netflix documentary “Mitt” in its promotional material:

1. “For six years, one filmmaker had exclusive access to Mitt Romney.” Well, it really doesn’t seem like it, because the majority of the footage is taken from directly before or after presidential debates or at other integral campaign events, showing very little of the promised “behind-the-scenes” moments of the Romneys in their natural habitat.

2. “Whatever side you’re on, see another side.” Well, not really. It’s not as if Romney As A Devoted Family Man is a shockingly new angle on the story — everyone has been exposed to Romney’s public image already, and “Mitt” doesn’t bother to delve any deeper than that.

But, what was I really expecting?

That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the documentary. I had similar feelings coming out of One Direction’s “This Is Us” documentary last summer: ‘Well, that was a clearly scripted promotional tool/moneymaking device.’ But, well, duh. And then I went to see it again.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching “Mitt,” but at 92 minutes, it barely scratches the surface, and I wanted so much more.

It begins in 2006, capturing a few choice moments from the lead-up to Romney’s loss to Senator John McCain during the 2008 primary. Leaving out nearly all of the political elements of the political campaign, “Mitt” instead focuses on the family life of the politician (and expects the viewer to keep track of about 112 Romney family members that filter in and out).

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

My favorite Romney, Josh (identifiable only because he has a slightly stronger jaw than his brother Matt), has a good moment of attempted realism, providing both his “media answer” and “actual answer” to the question, “Is it worth it?” After the 2008 primary is said and done, the family, as a whole, agrees vehemently that running for office is not worth it and they will never do it again.

The documentary then skips ahead several years to file footage of Mitt appearing onstage at the 2012 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination for President. This, I think, deserved much more of a segue.

The film also ends extremely abruptly without showing any return to normalcy or adjusting to life after losing a presidential election. Instead, Ann and Mitt walk inside their home, sit awkwardly on opposite ends of the room, then credits roll.

Mitt is an interesting person, just as villains usually have more interesting origin stories than their good-guy counterparts. Romney’s history is full of incidences of being good but never the best, culminating with his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He idolizes his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney (which is showcased, albeit subtly, in the documentary when Romney speaks passionately about his father’s accomplishments or hangs his father’s old campaign posters on his bus), and has always put great effort into doing things of which his father would be proud.

That’s what I want to watch a documentary about.

I found the rare, honest glimpses into Romney’s true character pretty interesting, and I would love to see a documentary focus more on that. I was pleasantly surprised by his self-deprecating sense of humor. During one of the many family pep talks featured in the film, one of the Romneys (probably Tagg) says, “A year ago, we told you that we’d love you no matter how this thing turned out, and—“ “And now you’re not so sure,” Mitt interjects with a wry smile.

Romney would make for a fantastic character study, but I’m not sure we’ll ever have the opportunity to truly lift the veil. Until then, “Mitt” only provides some partial insight.

‘Mitt’
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2014
Director: Greg Whiteley
Starring: Mitt Romney, Ann Romney and Taggart Romney
Genre: Documentary, Biography, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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