By Robert Abele
5:20 PM PST, January 27, 2014
Greg Whiteley's random access memories documentary, "Mitt," available on Netflix and being shown at a Pasadena theater, is a viewing experience both familiar and strange.
As a private glimpse inside the swirl that began with the former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 primary run to be the Republican presidential nominee (losing to John McCain) and concluding with his 2012 status as an also-ran, "Mitt" feels like the kind of behind-the-scenes campaign doc that's eager to clue us in on how candidates function day in and day out. There's Romney in hotel suites hashing out strategy with his family while cracking jokes, tidying the room, playfully arguing, weathering setbacks and staying optimistic in the face of defeat.
When Romney asks the gang on election night, "What do you think you say in a concession speech?" it's an undeniably humanizing moment.
But because these scenes are always with his family, and not his team or staff, you can't escape the sense that we're getting something softly calculated yet not exactly revealing. Whiteley, a fellow Mormon, is most assuredly a friendly chronicler, quick to show the patriarchal "good guy" — as devoted son Josh refers to Romney — and not the stiff-collared millionaire who in the notorious 47% video casually dismisses half of the country as people who don't pay taxes and don't take responsibility for their lives.
Although Whiteley's unrestricted there-ness effortlessly yields an avuncular striver — a corrective image that might have made a difference to certain voters had the film been released during the campaign, as the Romneys wished — it means little when the viewpoint is so hermetic.
Without juxtaposition with the larger political drama, the quest for the most powerful position in the world, such scenes give "Mitt" the unintended vibe of a G-rated Harold Pinter play, where the mundane minus reality equals head scratching. Learning that Ann Romney's much-ridiculed dressage horses are actually therapeutic for her multiple sclerosis is one thing, but absent the inclusion of the political stakes regarding Romney's healthcare platform, the information rests uneasily.
An animated Romney marveling at the come-from-nothing success of his governor-businessman father is odd without a corollary moment that conveys the born-rich son's own passion to secure the highest public office in the land. In other words, those who viewed Romney as someone who felt entitled to the gig won't leave "Mitt" feeling much different, even if they now smile at how he tends to pick up hotel room clutter when he's nervous.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; also on Netflix
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