Carr: Oh, for a happy ending
Sunday, January 19, 2014
When “Mitt” is over, you’ll be glad you saw it. But it’s not really the kind of movie you’ll want to watch again, at least if you voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Even though you know from the start how the new Netflix documentary turns out, the ending is still depressing. It’s election night 2012 and Romney and his family know they’ve lost. And somebody, I’m not sure who, is telling Mitt that his concession speech needs to be “soothing … pastoral.”
“Yeah, OK,” he says, dismissively. “I don’t think this is a time for soothing and ‘everything’s fine.’ This is really serious, guys, this is really serious. To get up and soothe is not my inclination.”
This is the real Willard. He’s not playing to the cameras now. His wife, Ann, is sitting beside him on the couch, her hair up, as he calmly assesses Barack Obama.
“I cannot believe that he is an aberration,” he says, staring down at his iPad. “I believe we’re following the same path of every other great nation. Which is greater government: tax the rich people, promise more stuff to everybody and borrow until you go over a cliff? And I think we have a very high chance of reaching the tipping point in the next five years. And the idea of saying, hey, everything is fine — it’s really not.”
In other words, he wasn’t kidding about “the 47 percent.”It’s really amazing that Mitt, as buttoned-down as he is, would agree to give director Greg Whiteley this kind of access. Of course, you can never really know everything that went on behind the scenes, but when one of Mitt’s sons on election night calls John Kerry an “a-hole,” you have to think this is about as close to the real Romney family as any outsider is ever going to get.
The Mitt in “Mitt” is really not all that different from the person who was governor of Massachusetts for four years. You keep waiting for him to lose his composure, but he never does. He’s not the robot he was caricatured as, but he’s not exactly emotional. One of the few weaknesses in the Netflix documentary is that sometimes it’s hard to know who Mitt is talking to off-camera. Is it one of his aides, or the cameraman, or one of his sons?
But it’s always revealing.
At the end of the 2008 primary season, Mitt speaks of spending his own money in the campaign, and says, “When this is over, I will have built a brand name.”
“Yeah,” says whoever he’s talking to, “a guy who will do anything to get elected. Quite a brand name.”
“Yeah,” Mitt agrees, as almost always showing no emotion. “Exactly right.”
Much of the best material comes from the 2008 primaries — the 2012 GOP race is dealt with cursorily, a merciful decision for the audience. Some of the scenes are funny, but eerily prescient. Pitching potential donors in Los Angeles, Mitt jokes about what happens to presidential losers, like a certain earlier Massachusetts governor.
“You become a loser for life,” Mitt says, “Mike Dukakis — he can’t even get a job mowing lawns.”
He’s just such a decent guy, self-deprecating, always polite, loves his family — I always knew he looked up to his father, but I never understood how much until “Mitt.” During the debates, he writes “Dad” on his legal pad.
“I’m standing on his shoulders. He’s the real deal. The guy was born in Mexico! He didn’t have a college degree … I always think about Dad.”
He can even make light of his image as a flip-flopper.
“I was at Burger King last night. I was at McDonald’s the night before!”
I’ve always heard that Mitt was shocked to lose, but in “Mitt” he doesn’t exactly seem to exude confidence on Election Day. And then, as the grim returns come in, his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, stops by to discuss when to concede.
Rhoades: “We just don’t want you to look like John Kerry.”
Mitt: “Hanging on, you mean.”
Later, as the family discusses what he should say in his concession speech, he brushes aside suggestions that he refer to some vague personal future in politics.
“My time on the stage is over,” he says, as always calm. “I’m happy for my time, but it is over.”
“We’re done,” Ann adds emphatically.
Even at the end, though, he’s trying to keep a stiff upper lip. He tells one of his aides to please make sure his Secret Service detail is pulled. Otherwise, he says, “I will feel ridiculous.”
I give “Mitt” four stars, but it sure could have used a happier ending.