No, you don't get to see a different side of Mitt Romney in Mitt. Nor do you get to see War Room-style maneuverings by his campaign staff, which stays largely off camera. But even so, the Netflix documentary is very much enjoyable — particularly thanks to our favorite scenes.
A lot has been made of how the filmhumanizes Romney. If it does, it's only in a very literal sense: he eats, he sleeps, he showers. It's proof he is not a robot, ironing shirts while he's wearing them notwithstanding. But the campaign documentary does not "humanize" him by showing the breadth of his emotions, fears, loves, whatever. The only moment when Romney seems much different than the man we got to know on the 2012 campaign is when he's being bitterly funny (or funnily bitter, it's hard to say): Flying over Boston on election night, en route to campaign headquarters, Romney notices that traffic is backed up like crazy. He's told the Secret Service has shut down tons of roads, just in case Romney wins. "Queen for a day," Romney says acidly. It's funny, but it's not exactly charming.
Our favorite moments
Elle: For a moment in Mitt, Romney almost seems to grasp one of the main themes of the 2012 campaign — income inequality — and then it slips through his fingers. As he's discussing the presidential debates with his family, Romney says, essentially, that he will never live up to his dad, despite his kids' denials. He shows the camera how he always writes "Dad" at the top of his notes once he's at the debate podium. "There's no way I would be able to be running for president if dad hadn't done what dad did," Romney says. "He's the real deal. He was born in Mexico —" and there his family cuts in. "You're the real deal!" But Romney won't hear it. "No," he says quickly," and moves on with his point.
"He didn't have a college degree. He became head of a car company, became a governor. I mean… It would have never entered my mind to be in politics. This guy — how can you go from his beginnings to think, 'I can be head of a car company, I can run for governor, I can run for president'? ...
For me, I started where he ended up. I started off with money, education, Harvard Business, Harvard Law School.
"For me, it's moving that far," Romney says, holding his fingers a couple inches apart. "For him, it's like that," Romney says, stretching out almost his whole wingspan. This moment happened long after Romney made his 47 percent comments. You would think he might pause and consider there might be a lot of people with as much potential as his dad struggling in the 47 percent. But Romney had just spent a few minutes talking as though the most oppressed people in America are business leaders. "I was with Papa John of Papa John's Pizza," Romney says. He says Papa would never start his pizza business today, in this "environment."
Philip: I couldn't help but be fascinated with how even a candidate for the presidency uses flawed, emotional cues to indicate how he's doing.
I'd say that the best scene is the one that takes place immediately after the Romneys vote in Massachusetts on Election Day. They retreat into a quiet, small room at the back of the school where they voted. Mitt seems deflated, perhaps because he's just endured the 999,995th bit of glad-handing of his eventual one million. But also, they sigh, because there were so many people out there voting, way more than normal. It's apparently a quiet admission of pessimism, an acknowledgement that people are energized in a way that favors a Democratic candidate. But, Romney says, recovering, he's heard that turnout in (heavily Republican) suburban areas of Ohio is also up. The scene ends there with a split-second of quiet in the weirdly cluttered room.
I was also blown away by the response to the debates. The Romney family and their handlers celebrate the first-blush focus group of a room of debate-watchers, curated by Frank Luntz. It's a notoriously flawed tool for evaluating how a candidate fared — particularly when run by the avowedly Republican Luntz. But it's a flash of hope.
After the second debate, when President Obama now-famously allowed Romney to "please proceed" into making an erroneous claim about how the president handled Benghazi, the family seizes on a flash poll from CBS showing that only a slight plurality of people thought Obama won. Romney obviously knows better than to find hope in the numbers, though, standing quietly and shaking his head as his family tries to convince each other that the night wasn't a disaster.
Elle: That debate is one of the lower points of the campaign, and, although you hear a lot about how warm and loving Romney's family is, there are several moments, including that night, when his sons clearly can't help but make cutting comments toward their dad.
After the debate, Mitt gets in a long argument with Tagg Romney about the location of a food court in an airport. Tagg won't let it go, and they finally Google the floorplan of the airport terminal in question.
Tagg: "At LaGuardia Delta Terminal, there is no food. What are you talking about? You're crazy, Mr. Fly Private."
Mitt: "You're thinking of the shuttle. The shuttle has one area with eight gates. But the regular Delta has like 20 gates. And it's the other direction."
Another brother: [gesturing at Mitt] "Where was this guy tonight?"
Mitt: "Did you see it, Tagg?"
Tagg: "Yes, and you were wrong. And I'll show you."
Tagg is right. "I beat my dad in a debate," he says happily. That's right, dad couldn't even win a dumb fight about an airport terminal eatery. At that moment, it's the jerkiest possible thing he could do.
Philip: A final note. We don't want to spoil the movie for you, but squeamish Republicans should be prepared: Things don't work out well for the Romneys. In the last scene, they're shown quietly returning to their house, saying goodbye to staffers next to an open garage. "Their house is so small," my wife exclaimed. "Look how close their garage is to their neighbor's!" They go inside, and then it's quiet.
Correction: We all have our biases. The article originally said that the garages at the end were all the Romneys'; in fact, someone familiar with the family indicates that their primary residence is a two-bedroom, two-garage home near Boston. Modest, relatively.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.