On Planet Mitt, no one can hear you fake-laugh…
Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. They are addicts, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal – like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and everybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics – especially in presidential campaigns.
— Hunter S. Thompson, “Better Than Sex” (Random House, 1994).
Uh, what exactly is the point of this documentary? Director Greg Whiteley’s MITT follows Republican vulture capitalist and magic Mormon Mitt Romney during his two failed presidential bids in 2008 and 2012. And uh, that’s about it; a fly-on-the-wall, BLAIR WITCH, 90-minute, found-footage B-roll that says nothing and goes nowhere.
MITT opens at the height of drama, like most good non-chronological horror stories: Election Night 2012. Mitten sittin’ in lavish hotel suite, surrounded by his family, peering warily at election results pouring in. Fear, flop sweat, fake jocularity. He asks no one in particular, “What do you think you say in a concession speech?” He would find out soon enough…
This vapid documentary (under the Netflix aegis) scores 1 Cukee not because I detest its star (who is a heinous, culty corporatist and compulsive liar), but because it’s a damnably unwatchable piece of drivel with no point to make. It creates foreshadowing without callbacks or payoffs, it attempts to flesh out characters and never follows their arcs or fates, it portrays only what the Romney family authorized (which means it’s hardly objective), it leaves out gigantic chunks of the tale that made this man worth following, and it provides no context for all its world-shaking events. Scant title cards inform us of a place name or an important event (e.g. University of Denver, or Election Night, etc.), but we get to fill in the blanks ourselves – if we follow politics. If not, well… If you don’t know Mitt going in, you sure as Shitt won’t know Mitt coming out.
Another supposed reason for this faux-agitprop’s existence is to “humanize” the candidate (in itself an admission/ confession that Romney is a clinical automaton that needs humanizing in the first place) by showing his familial interactions. Yet there are dead-giveaway shots that only exacerbate the notion he’s a clinical automaton. For example, the camera follows Mitt and wife Ann down a hallway in mid-shot; as they walk, camera pans down; their arms are touching, even their hands are brushing against each other – yet they never link hands or fingers. Camera pans back up, almost like it has given up waiting for them to do something human. In the end, the shot comes off like B-roll footage of Ann’s capacious arse.
Then there are the countless shots of the Romney family “hugging.” I put this human action in quotation marks because they never seem to get it right – or make it look human. The practiced, studied manner in which Mitt seems to be running through the steps in his robot brain: 1) put arms around subject, aka embrace, 2) make lips wide and optionally show teeth, aka smile, 3) manipulate hand on anterior part of subject in a hitting motion three times, aka pat subject’s back, 4) slide hand up and down on anterior part of subject three times, aka rub subject’s back, 5) disengage, and 6) [optional] delouse in case of transfer of human bacteria. We see two Romney Coward Sons trying to hug, and it looks like Michael Jackson trying to kiss Lisa Marie Presley. Guess they didn’t get the above memo.
We see Ann with her horse (in itself a damning scene as her cock-walk elitism bleeds through without her even realizing it), caressing the Olympian equine with an intimacy that we never see her display with Mitt. A few scenes later, she’s touching Mitt like her horse! Which either means she wants Mitten in her kitten, or she learned the art of love through her horse.
So once again, I hafta ask: What’s the point? It’s two years too late to win the last election and it’s two years too early to sway the next one.
And keep this overarching point in mind about public personas and their “performance art.” I’m a performer, so I speak with unquestionable authority: offstage, you could call me cynical, anti-social, maybe even an asshole – but onstage or when I’ve turned the public persona “on,” I present my gregarious entertainer character, the most fun-loving guy you will ever meet. This is what performers do. Onstage, we present the “best” of ourselves, while we keep the offstage side of us hidden, because the reality is never quite so savory. My question: Why would any performer keep the good side of himself hidden and display his lying, corporate pig side in public? And if Romney truly believes his lying-corporate-pig is the good side of him, then he’s really got problems that no documentary can MITTigate. Does it take a filmmaker to show that Romney is a good family man? And why would you try to keep your personable side secret anyway? That’s not how performers work! We are vain, insecure peacocks constantly looking for love from any angle! Which leads us to believe that the public side of Romney – the side that he believes is the gregarious entertainer character – IS the “real” Romney, and his family life (hidden from public like a ginger child) is the fakery! And observing the clunky interactions between the Romney clan in this documentary, that would seem to be the case, which means MITT is doing the exact opposite of its intended purpose!
December 2006: We see the Romney clan gathered, Mitt surveying his gutless sons and their Stepford wives: “Reasons to do it? Reasons not to?” Waitaminute! Director Whiteley is selling us this moment as the real moment the clan had a sit-down to discuss that crossroads? Do you think we are that unsophisticated to fall for this dungcastle? Of course he’s running – YOU’RE ALREADY FILMING! Would you have set up these shots with this lighting and audio, and paid the travel and accommodation and meals to visit the Romney family on a decision that might have gone either way? That’s no way to win us over, lying to us from the get-go. But then, in a doc about a compulsive liar, is it any surprise?
One of the clone sons speaks: “I feel that if people really get to know who you are, it could be a successful campaign.” Is that irony or just stupidity? Son Tagg (name lifted from Jock Names For Dummies) chimes in that Mitt has a duty to country and god. He’s a fine one to talk, deferring from military service like the rest of his clones so that he could continue to not serve his country and god.
But which god is he talking about anyway? Joseph Smith? The aptly named Angel Moroni? Charlton Heston? Morgan Freeman?
We see the family tearfully praying, led by Ann, using archaic vernacular, “We bow our knees” –bow our knees?– “and in all humility come before thee, acknowledging all the blessings thou has given us…” It sounds like Luca Brasi in THE GODFATHER trying to improv an honorarium. Knowing what we know in 2014, I guess whichever god they were praying to wasn’t listening, eh?
This whole failed experiment is like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: You cannot identify a particle’s position by trying to actually SEE its position – because to “see” it requires a photon of light, and that photon of light reflecting off it CHANGES its real position. You cannot see the “real” Romney family by shining a light on them – knowing the cameras are rolling causes them to CHANGE their real positions.
For example, Mitt gives an impassioned exposition speech about his father being born in Mexico and becoming a successful businessman in America and blah blah – to his family who already know all this! Why are you talking like you’re reading from a bad script? Because he is – from his Talking Points Handbook imprinted in his stump speech brain. For The Camera. We see Mitt meeting all his grandkids at an event, picking each of them up and enunciating their names clearly. Is this how humans greet their grandkids? Yes, For The Camera. Son Josh says directly into the camera, with no realization of his hypocrisy: “To actually speak my mind [about Mitt’s campaign] is different, ’cause I’ve been trained to do media interviews” (basically an admission that his media interviews are bulldung). Another clone whines, “This is awful – they keep saying Mitt Romney’s a flip-flopper; he’s this, he’s that…” as if bringing it up For The Camera will nullify its veracity. While failing to address any of Mitt’s actual flip-flops on abortion, gun control, illegal immigration [insert any policy – it’s all been flipped at any given time].
Suddenly, we are in 2012. We are not even told that Obama won the 2008 presidency – against John McCain. (We are not made aware that Mitt lost the 2008 primaries, and that McCain was the Republican party’s ultimate presidential candidate – not Mitt.) If Whiteley ever tries to sell this as a historical document, he’ll have to figure how to actually add some “history.” There is no shrift given to the Republican primary challenge of 2012; there is no coverage of the Republican Klown Kar debates, no $10,000 bet, no tax records withheld, no “We love you women!” speech, no running mate who lied about his “2 hours and change” marathon… Film just skips forward four years – and we see Mitt’s Reed Richards gray hasn’t moved one hair up or down; he cultivates it that way, so he can retain his position as leader of the Fantastic Four.
There are minimal appearances by Fox hosts, and there are noticeably no MSNBC commentators, thereby presenting a slanted view of Romney by not representing what “the other side” reports about him. All we hear of Romney’s detractors are just what spews forth from the Romney camp, mostly from Mitt himself in the form of whining to his family like a real man.
The leadup to the first 2012 presidential debate is drawn out, with inane talk, scenes of Mitt picking up trash, riding in elevators, traveling in vans, scenes of Ann hurling directives at Mitt while he eats and ignores her (compelling stuff, I know, and I’d like to detail every moment, but I need to go watch some fucking paint dry). Did Mitt want this first debate built up this way because he crushed the incumbent Barack Obama?
The second debate is another matter, and I’m surprised the Romneys allowed Whiteley to include the exchange where Mitt fell flat on his Benghazi. But here’s the reason why: the Romney clan proceed to re-prosecute that onstage argument with Candy Crowley back in their hotel room, amongst themselves! For The Camera. Hoping to rewrite history? But they’re preaching to their own choir. After all the platitudes about serving the country, here they sit splitting hairs over a debate question, no better than a freakload of douchebags arguing on YouTube: “Waaah! She didn’t let me say Benghazi the way I wanted to Benghazi if the angle of the Benghazi was equal to the Benghazi of the Benghazi! Waaaah! Benghazi!…”
Like villains in any movie, the Romney clan wholeheartedly buys into their own evil and ignorance, rationalizing it as beneficial; they truly believe all the snake-oil their patriarch is selling the American public. Bet they’ve never read Hunter S. Thompson, so they will never know their patriarch is a politics junkie, who is sacrificing them unto the bosom of his addiction. Lie and cheat and steal. We’ve seen Mitt lie (any time he opens his automaton mouth: “Obama is sending jobs overseas with Jeep”), cheat (any time he deals with money: “I pay probably 14% taxes”) and steal (see Mitt float the idea he should be running on “Change” when that slogan is so obviously Obama’s from 2008).
LAUGH: at the 47% speech that exposed Mitt for the out-of-touch, insular, hubristic swine he really is (ironically – a true behind the scenes moment and public moment, where he didn’t know he was playing For The Camera).
WINCE: as Mitt and two clones chuckle robotically at gay comic David Sedaris in a podcast of This American Life. Homosexuality is anathema to Mitt, his intolerant Mormon clan and their subservient wives, yet this moment is specifically featured in this doc. Why, to rewrite Mitt as tolerant? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-ha.
MARVEL: at Mitt’s big heart as he talks about buying a small company through Bain Capital and “we agonized on how we were going to make that company succeed and finally it went out of business.”
STRAIN: to hear how much cash Mitt personally made from that company that went out of business – you won’t hear one word from this slimeball on his profiteering from that company’s loss. Mitt’s ingenuous lament neglects to mention that Bain’s Business Model is set up in such a way that even if a company goes out of business, Bain still walks away with billions.
WEEP: for Ann Romney, when she tragically suffered MS, but thankfully had all that inherited money to beat it back into remission. And Mitt’s therapy, “Just get on your horse and you’ll feel better.” That’s nice, her tax write-off comes in handy for so much!
LAMENT: that Mitt is not president, as I’m sure he would have made that Equestrian Therapy available to everyone in America.
PONDER: on whether Mitt only allowed filmmaker Greg Whiteley such access because he thought his name was Greg Whitey.
ELECTION DAY 2012. At the 1:14:00 mark – Mitt’s running mate and old-lady-without-dentures, Paul Ryan, appears. If you don’t know who he is, don’t worry, this film won’t tell you. Nor do they show how Mitt and Co. lived in Fox News Denial Land (what Jon Stewart unabashedly calls Bullshit Mountain), thinking they had a close race on their hands, right up to the last possible moment, when Mitt had to cry out like a leper in the wilderness, “What do you think you say in a concession speech?” When we circle back to this moment, Mitt’s equaniMITTy is almost poignant. But we just have to recall how he ran two duplicitous campaigns sacrificing the lives of his family and more than willing to sacrifice the lives of the American people “to HAVE the job, not DO the job,” to flense all notion of jerking our tears.
NO PITY! These, rich, enabled douchebags can go back to their fleeced beds and wave runners and limos that drive themselves, and horses and yachts and car elevators and FUCK YOU PEOPLE! The audacity on complaining how tough the campaign trail is. Really? It’s a good thing you never have to worry about a Real Job where you actually produce something worthwhile; good thing you never have to worry about breaking a leg and not having health insurance; good thing you never have to worry about changing flat tires on the way to a job that could be the difference between eating for the next few weeks or dying; good thing someone keeps your plane fueled so you can make it to your next stump where you stand in front of rednecks and say anything that comes into your block head for thirty minutes, whether it’s the truth, fiction, lies, talking points or just fart noises.
Ultimately, this movie/ documentary/ apologia is as rudderless and goal-less as its subject matter. And that’s all we feel at its conclusion, when Ann and Mitt retire from the spotlight, their perquisites ripped from them (the Secret Service, the slush-funded limos, celebrity dinners, private airplanes, sycophantic campaign staff); a sense that all of it was for naught. Twice. Because it was. And the schadenfreude washes over us like a warm hooker.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a cautionary tale of how even the richest, most prominent, most respected among us can still be such a Loser. (Mitt inadvertently bolsters this theory in a stump scene, where he talks about the possibilities of him being regarded a big Loser and making the “L” sign with his pointer finger and thumb up at his forehead – with the wrong hand. If we needed any more proof…)
To his Coward Clones: “My time on the stage is over, guys…”
Somehow, for a blowhard who has nothing better to do in his enabled life, I don’t think that’s even remotely true. But we can always dream for Change, can’t we, Mitt? (That’s your slogan, right?)…