Mitt Romney was the candidate no one wanted, but still, everyone agreed that he would be the Republican nominee in the 2012 presidential election. Romney wasn’t the most charismatic, he wasn’t that convincing, and in a time of deep economic recession, no one liked the idea of a rich white guy calling the shots. He was a Mormon, the son of a rich business executive and governor, and he himself had made millions - some would say - buying up companies, firing everyone and selling them for parts. It’s not hard to paint Mitt Romney as unlikeable, but that’s part of the reason that Mitt is such a surprise.
Director Greg Whiteley received unprecedented access to Romney, his family, and the Romney 2012 presidential campaign capturing the behind the scenes drama of running for America’s highest office. That process was six years long, and actually covered both presidential runs for Romney, who was a runner-up in 2008 to John McCain before becoming the nominee himself in 2012. It was that year's election and the politicking for the Romney family that Whiteley focused on, but in the midst of its politics, Mitt never loses the idea that it's a family story.
Mitt skewers the divisiveness of both politics in general, and the 2012 election specifically, to paint a portrait of a well-meaning, family-oriented man running, and struggling, with his belief that he’s the man to lead the free world. Through Whiteley’s camera, we see Romney being conciliatory, to have occasional fits of doubt, and be an open collaborator that leans on his family for advice and support as he goes through a trying presidential bid. As such, other characters like campaign workers, volunteers, and even Romney's own running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, are relegated to the sidelines. Ryan does appear briefly on Election Day, and the lack of interaction shown between the two men can be taken as either inconsequential or a sign that they were hardly bosom buddies on the hustings.
The dissection of the Romney/Ryan partnership may be interesting, but it's not this movie's preoccupation. The behind the scenes access does allow the Romney point of view on other key moments of the campaign though, the iconic stuff that eventually lead to Romney's defeat. The "47 per cent" video, the $10,000 bet and the "Please proceed, Governor" moment from the second debate are all covered from the Romeny perspective, which is interesting because we get to see how personally the candidate himself took these highly charged moments. Obviously, he didn't take them well, but that's why this kind of behind the scenes access, in its rarity, is so great.
Speaking of things that don't come off well, there's Ann Romney, Mitt's wife who in media appearances has come off as shrill and unlikable, and that doesn't change with Mitt. There's a bizarre kind of entitlement that Ann has about her husband and the presidency, and I'm not sure where that comes from. I remember in an interview before the election when the Romneys were asked if they had a message for the Obamas, Ann laughed and said, "Pack," as if November's outcome were a foregone conclusion. It wasn't, of course. Sadly, there isn't much room for the women folk of the Romney clan in the film, which is why an appearance by Ann where she's glib or patronizing is disappointing.
Otherwise, this film does a lot to rehab the Romney image. There was a distance between Romney and the voters who weren’t already dyed in the wool Republicans couldn’t cross, and this documentary does a lot to address that. Apparently, Whiteley’s access came with the caveat that the movie couldn’t be screened until after the election, or after the Romney presidency, and the shame is that the film does more to humanize the man than at any point in the year and a half campaign. The film isn’t very cinematic, and by its nature it has a fairly intimate point of view, but that’s perfectly suited to be screened via Netflix, and not necessarily in a movie theater.
Like with the Academy Award-nominated The Square, Netflix shows it has shrewd taste in acquiring documentaries, and Mitt parlays its subject’s name recognition to deliver something that genuinely surprises. In other words, if you think you know Mitt, think again.