Daily | Sundance 2014 | Greg Whiteley’s MITT



As a political junkie, and what’s worse, a political campaign junkie, I’ve been eagerly following coverage of Greg Whiteley’s Mitt, the documentary focusing on Romney’s failed 2008 and 2012 presidential bids, since it premiered on Friday. Romney, his wife Ann and their five sons showed up to walk the red carpet (Park City, after all, can’t be too far from their Utah home) and Romney gave interviews to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“The film doesn’t dramatically alter the popular image of Romney so much as it enriches and deepens it,” writes the Dissolve‘s Nathan Rabin. “Romney is still the blow-dried, clean-cut child of wealth and privilege of the popular imagination. But in Mitt, he’s also a man who guffaws heartily at David Sedaris on This American Life, has a surprisingly sharp sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself, and clearly adores a family that reciprocates that affection three-fold…. Is Romney’s wholesome, Mr. Clean persona an act? Mitt suggests not, and further suggests that Romney’s not just a Ken doll, he’s a Ken doll with a soul.”

Alison Willmore at Indiewire: “Even if you care little about him as a politician—and I’ll confess to that myself—Mitt offers up a fascinating divide between the private man and the public image. It’s a divide the film is unable to account for on screen, which is understandable and frustrating: while Whiteley got access to the Romney family, he doesn’t appear to have gotten the same from the campaign managers and staff, and so we see little of the thought process and advice that went into its candidate’s speeches or choices on the trail.”

Writing for the New Republic, Laura Bennett argues that “Romney makes for one of the most interesting campaign documentary subjects in recent memory, simply because, in his pathological politeness, when it came to access he was seemingly unable to say no. Whiteley, who is also a Mormon, started lobbying the Romneys to let him film them back in 2006. First he met with Tagg, who was moved by Whiteley’s entreaty but couldn’t persuade his father. But then Ann decided she liked the idea. So Whiteley got permission to attend Christmas with the Romneys in Park City, and from there he never stopped filming.”

“It was like nature photography,” Whiteley tells the NYT‘s Ashley Parker. “I didn’t ask a lot of questions, and I just filmed.” Parker: “The price of access was simple: Mr. Whiteley retained all editorial control, as long as he promised not to release anything without the campaign’s permission until Mr. Romney had finished running for or being president.”

“How ironic to realize that the greatest Mitt Romney campaign ad should arrive too late to save him,” finds the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “He comes across smart, relaxed and witty, at least among his family and friends…. Time and again I found myself struggling to square Whiteley’s amiable fellow with the other Mitt Romney: the stiff, stentorian corporate raider who wants to slash welfare, cut taxes, and who blithely writes off 47% of the electorate as ‘victims.'”

“Like Alexandra Pelosi’s Journeys With George, Mitt is a film that allows a politician’s ideological enemies to laugh with him and enjoy some time in his company,” suggests John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “But while Journeys captured George W. Bush’s ability to effectively charm people he’d ignore as soon as he didn’t need them (the go-along journalists covering his campaign), Mitt humanizes a man who was never nearly as good with his target audience as he was with his family. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, it’s hard not to conclude the electorate did the man a favor by sending him back to those who love him.”

“I think there may be a feeling that this documentary shows the side of Romney that maybe America didn’t get to see in 2012, which I don’t quite think is true,” writes Daniel Fienberg at HitFix. “I think Mitt shows the side of Mitt Romney that everybody was willing to accept on faith was there in 2012. We just didn’t care.”

Updates, 1/31: Slate‘s John Dickerson notes that “we don’t see much about Romney’s inner policy convictions, except for a few brief moments where he talks about the burdens of regulations—a private monologue not that different from his stump speech. There’s no rebalancing scene aimed at rebutting Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent who don’t support him. Huge portions of the campaign go uncovered—the entire 2012 nominating process, for example—and the larger campaign operation—the aides, the strategy maps, the tactics—is almost entirely absent. And as appealing a family movie as this may be, there are no fights, squabbles, or inner-family tension that must have occurred at some point. For this to be a complete portrait, it could have used some moments of grist.”

“Mitt is a spiritual cousin to a little-seen documentary about another failed Presidential candidate,” notes Ian Crouch for the New Yorker. “In 2000, the director Spike Jonze, at the request of Al Gore’s campaign, made a thirteen-minute video about the candidate, intimately and informally shot, with a jumpy hand-held camera, when Gore was at his home in Tennessee and on vacation with his family.” It “an attempt, too late in the campaign, to counter the image of Gore as a robotic wonk, in contrast to Bush, the affable everyman. Seen later, it takes on a different character. Al and Tipper Gore are divorced. The George W. Bush Administration played out like a bad dream. The scenes in which Gore talks about his early antipathy toward politics, and the shadow his senator father cast over his life, take on greater resonance, offering keys to understanding why he lost…. The emotional power of both the Jonze footage and Whiteley’s documentary comes from knowing what the figures onscreen don’t, which is that all the effort and personal exposure will end in failure.”

For Time‘s James Poniewozik, “speaking as a disclosed Obama voter, I found it humanly sympathetic regardless of political sympathies. As the returns come in election night (reporting after the election said the Romney camp was ‘shellshocked‘ by the loss, despite the polls), it’s simply an illustration of how hard it is for people to let go of a dream.”

“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,” writes the Stranger‘s Paul Constant. “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.”

“Having had a father who bridged the enormous gap between his origins and professional achievements (CEO, governor and presidential candidate), Romney might believe this is a path readily available to all Americans,” suggests Robin Holland. “And this, not his stiffness or his reluctance to talk about faith, is what doomed his candidacy–after all, it’s the politics, stupid.”

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