Last week, Netflix debuted a new documentary about the 2008 and 2012 Romney campaigns called, simply, Mitt. As much as any documentary about a presidential candidate can be, it's a strangely apolitical film; director Greg Whiteley had access to virtually every family gathering, but he had no access to private strategy meetings. That leaves the movie with a personal feel, like the camera belongs to a close family friend along for the ride. And there are a few touching moments in Mitt. I was moved when Romney ruefully refers to his sunken eyes as hiding in "caves"—for some reason, the fact that Romney would feel insecure about any aspect of his appearance came as a surprise to me. There are a couple of scenes where Romney wanders around hotel rooms, picking up spilled garbage, and the way he hunches over to scoop up discarded wrappers reminds you that he's a retirement-age man with fewer years ahead of him than behind him.
But the film does have some serious problems, especially with its structure: It skims through Romney's failed 2008 campaign, and then immediately jumps past the insane Republican primary of 2012 to just after the Republican National Convention. I wanted to see an exasperated Romney during one of Newt Gingrich's high-flying moments, or when Rick Perry was hammering Romney for having illegal immigrants working on his property. Instead, the film picks up right around Romney's triumphant first debate with President Obama. I understand that this makes for a simple dramatic structure—it's practically a Joseph Campbell-style hero's journey, save for the loss at the end (uh, spoiler?)—but it feels like a dishonest structure for the documentary, and a lost opportunity to see how Romney behaves under fire.
So we see Romney sweating during a hot summer rally. We see him wandering around hotel rooms before debates in a bathrobe, full of nervous energy. We see him asking his family for their opinions, and we see him holding forth on how the country is going down the tubes in response. Mitt doesn't set Romney up as a tragic figure, or as a better man than he managed to present to us during his presidential campaigns. But it does show us how banal Romney's life is. He's the boring-looking guy we see sitting in first class on all those business flights, a man who can be completely at home in the beige glow of a hotel room, the purposeful granddad futzing around with his iPad, trying to show all the kids that he's still relevant. It doesn't make Romney any more likable, but it does remind us that he's a mortal mess, just like the rest of us.