Director: Greg Whiteley
Cast: Mitt Romney
Watch Mitt online: Netflix UK
Mitt Romney is a loser. Despite enormous wealth (his personal assets are said to be worth anywhere between $190 – $250 million) and tremendous influence accrued over 40 years in business, the guy just couldn’t win over the hearts and minds of the American people. Which is ridiculous when you think about it. Take a look at the dude. He’s got the most presidential looking face imaginable. He’s handsome, chiselled, ready-made for a place at the end of Mount Rushmore. Well, looks can be deceiving.
In 2008, he lost the race to become the Republican Party’s candidate for the US presidential election. In 2012, he lost the election itself. And it wasn’t even close. At the final count, the incumbent Obama kicked the Massachusetts governor firmly into touch with a resounding 332 electoral college votes versus Romney’s meagre 206. Obama took the popular vote by 51% to 47%, which doesn’t sound all that bad, until you realise that 4% adds up to nearly five million votes. Romney’s ass wasn’t just handed to him; it was served up on a silver platter, with all the trimmings. The guy got pummelled.
Sometime in between the two elections, Mitt managed to squeeze out his personal manifesto for leadership. Its name? No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. With hindsight, it’s an unfortunate title. Perhaps even a little sad – in US politics, greatness is defined by what you win, not what you lose.
And nobody knows more about losing than Mitt Romney.
Greg Whiteley’s new film, Mitt (a Netflix original), aims to redress the balance. It’s not really a documentary; it’s a whitewash. A nice story, about a nice guy, who just so happens to be running for the highest office in the land. He loves his wife. He loves his kids. He loves his country. That’s what you get for 94 ordinary minutes. Blandness on a plate. It’d be quaint, if it wasn’t so toothless, but this was never going to be a brutal exposé of a privileged political system. Perhaps that’s the price you pay for an “Access All Areas” pass to the greatest show on Earth. Sure, there’s a fantastic film to be made about the satanic majesty of US politics, but this isn’t it.
The film opens on the night of the 2012 election. Romney sits in his hotel suite, his family and closest advisors around him. As the results filter through, they realise the race is over, and a hush descends upon the room. Romney breaks through the awkward silence, and asks if anyone has a number for the President.
Whiteley then rewinds all the way back to 2006, to the very beginning of his subject’s first campaign for the presidency. Romney is, once again, surrounded by his family, this time at an enormous ski lodge buried in deep snow and rolling hills. A log fire burns as his sons and daughters talk about their hopes and fears for the battle ahead.
This sets the tone. For the most part, Whiteley’s film steers clear of hard politics. You won’t find anything substantial here about the Governor’s views on defence, abortion and gay marriage. Instead, the film tries to humanise Romney, to portray him as a family man adept at difficult choices. Nothing more, nothing less. Whiteley’s lack of ambition is frustrating, and his film’s about as dangerous as a conference centre.
Regardless, there are a handful of nice touches. Early in his first primary campaign, and practically unknown outside his own state, Romney takes his family out for some fast food. He sits there in the glare of the cafeteria, innocuously chewing away at his ordinary American meal, completely undisturbed by a blissfully unaware public. Later, flying home at the close of polling day in 2012, he realises entire roads have been blocked off pending his arrival. “Queen for a day,” he quips. The juxtaposition is effective. There’s the sense of a larger purpose looming.
In the film’s funniest, most unlikely moment, just two hours before taking the stage at the presidential debate, Romney’s caught listening to David Sedaris cheekily parodying him during an episode of This American Life. Of course, as we all know, Romney fumbles the debate, but it’s presented here as a near miss rather than a crushing blow.
At the end of Mitt, we go back to that hotel suite on election night. Gracious in defeat, Romney takes suggestions about what he should say in his concession speech, before quickly improvising something impressive and stately. He’s calm. Collected. Almost presidential. This is a man who’s been here before. Romney’s campaign manager tells the staff that he’d “rather lose with this guy, than win with anyone else” and with that, the film is done. Whitewash complete. Mission accomplished.