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Movie Review | Political documentary ‘Mitt’ shows audiences softer side to Romney

Published: Friday, January 31, 2014

Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 03:01

Did you know that Mitt Romney ran for the Republican primary in 2008? If not, it may be time to delve into Greg Whiteley’s new documentary, “Mitt.” But you do so at your own risk. While the amount of access Whiteley was given in order to film the documentary is impressive, the documentary itself does little to offer a new perspective on the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. It does humanize a political candidate who was largely characterized as unfeeling and wooden, but, in a strange way, it seems to reinforce the idea that his blandness is still telling of Romney himself.

The documentary is a meditation on just how ordinary Willard Mitt Romney really is and how much he really believed in what he wanted for America. There’s something to be said for realizing this. In the film’s opening, the Romney family is seated, waiting for the results of the 2012 election. Whiteley wastes no time establishing the documentary’s pervasive tone of inevitable failure, despite Romney’s exhausting efforts to succeed. The question Romney poses before the results come in captures this feeling: “So, what do you say in a concession speech?”

Turn the clock back to 2006. You’re with a family sledding down a hill in the snow. Romney is younger and happier, as is his family. In a family meeting, you watch as each member of the clan weighs in on whether or not the former governor should run for president. It’s clear that the Romney family knows the process will be grueling, but they support his decision. The mood is jovial and intimate — and the film rarely deviates from this feeling. The Romney sons and daughters-in-law — as well as his wife, Ann — remain consistently supportive, always trying to buoy  the candidate’s spirits.

And this is actually part of what makes the documentary strange. The Romney family is constantly supportive, and the little jokes they make are clearly what any family would have to do to remain sane while dealing with such enormous pressure over such an extended period of time. But that’s the thing — they’re almost too sane. There’s a lackadaisical quality to them, even when they’re stressed. They realize there’s a lot at stake with the election, but if Romney loses it’s not going to be the end of the world. In fact, given the impending sense of doom that pervades the depiction of both of Romney’s campaigns, it almost seems as if they would all secretly prefer if it could be over and done with.

One of the more interesting parts of the film is getting to see how Romney responds to the pressures of running for president. Watching him complain about the accusation that he’s a flip-flopper, it becomes clear just how callow and distorted these political brandings really are, and how frustrating they would be to deal with. Is being flexible with your opinions and policies actually a failing? Would people prefer a president who would never change his mind about anything, one incapable of adapting their views to a given situation? Is this a good accusation to make — or simply an effective tool for political smear campaigns? In any case, it’s surprising to see how good-natured Romney remains through much of the campaign in spite of these frustrations.

Ultimately, it’s difficult for many to empathize with a man who owns several enormous houses and who, once the campaign is over, can sit down in an armchair in one of these homes where he stares serenely out the window with near-panoramic view of mountains, as the loss of the election sinks in.

After an hour and a half of being ferried from hotel room to hotel room, experiencing the campaign indirectly through the Romney family gets old. The documentary does not evoke anything other than a sort of mild sympathy for them. Whiteley sets out to show you the man behind the campaign, and he succeeds in proving that Romney is very human behind his political caricature. But there’s little about the candidate as an individual that inspires a strong reaction about anything.

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