Anyone looking for another side of Mitt Romney in the documentary “Mitt,” which starts streaming today on Netflix, will find flashes of the inner man but few deep revelations. Still, as filmmaker Greg Whiteley trails the venture capitalist and former Massachusetts governor through two failed presidential bids, he is well positioned to capture the Romneys’ intimate moments of triumph and the bewildering speed of Mitt’s defeat after a long, hard slog.
From the hotel rooms to the fast-food joints to the campaign planes, there are bursts of cinematic life in this campaign reality show. But the real stars are Romney’s sons and wife, Ann, as we see their own lives upended by six years of battle. Romney comes across as the same guy we saw on the stump in 2008 and 2012, or, as he calls himself in a reference to the flip-flopping of which he was accused, “the flipping Mormon. I can’t fix the Mormon part, but the flipping side continues to be a problem.”
Ever the micro-manager, he sits on a sofa with a notebook and takes inventory of the pros and cons of a possible run in 2008 with his family around him. They are in jeans, sweatshirts and socks. He’s in his familiar button-down shirt and chinos.
“We’ll still love you,” says his eldest son, Tagg, fighting back tears, encouraging his dad to go for it whatever the outcome.
Romney does, and is staggered by the chaos. “How many debates do I have to do?” he asks, of anyone who will listen.
The ascendancy of John McCain in the 2008 primary takes Romney by surprise. “Six months ago we laughed at John McCain,” he says in disbelief. The film also shows a flummoxed Romney reacting to the news of Charlie Crist’s endorsement of McCain, just days before the crucial Florida primary. According to Romney, Crist, the former governor of Florida, gave him his word that he would remain neutral. Reeling in the final days of the 2008 race, Ann Romney leads the family in a tearful prayer, on hands and knees in a hotel room. This is perhaps the film’s most powerful, authentic scene.
When it’s clear McCain has bested them, Romney takes solace in the fact that he’ll be the “next guy in line in four years.” A disheartened Ann says she can’t bear the thought of another run, but the film fast-forwards to 2012, with Romney gathering his thoughts before his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
Ann’s serenity and strength make her sympathetic, and Whiteley paints her as the campaign’s saddest casualty. Her crestfallen face is the last frame of the film. While Romney carbs up on pasta before his first presidential debate against President Obama in 2012, Ann sits regally opposite, already dressed for the big event in her white suit. He asks her for last-minute advice. She tells him to focus on his “conviction. Complete power from within your heart.” Their son Josh certainly shows conviction when he calls John Kerry “an A-hole” for taking jabs at his father. That’s strong language for a Mormon.
“I just can’t believe you’re going to lose,” Josh tells his dad on election night, as the returns work against them. “Yeah,” Romney responds, barely looking up from his smartphone.
“Does anyone have the number for the president?” Romney asks his handlers. Then, with sheepish charm: “I hadn’t thought of that.”