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Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I have never reviewed a documentary for this column, but thought this film was worth recommending, regardless of one's political persuasion and/or opinion of Mitt Romney. I've always been intrigued by politics, particularly political films that show the inner workings of the election machine and the corruption that often comes with attaining a high-level political office. While this film isn’t an All the President’s Men, Nixon, or The Ides of March, it is an eye-opener, giving the viewer a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the inner sanctum of a presidential candidate.

Now, I am astute enough to realize that crafty documentary filmmakers can masterfully edit the final product to cast a favorable light on its subject. This may certainly be the case in this Netflix original film. However, since I do like Mitt Romney, I was not offended nor bothered by the positive shadow this film cast on him and his family. I can say that I would be equally intrigued and entertained by a similar film about Barack Obama. (Personal note: a tour of Michelle Obama’s closet!)

This documentary starts with Romney's initial presidential run against John McCain as the Republican party’s candidate for the 2008 presidential election, eventually working toward the 2012 campaign against Obama. The entire film is composed of candid scenes between him and his wife, Ann, as well as their sons, daughters-in-law, and little grandchildren. What is clearly communicated is the process of running for office is a family affair that changes the lives of everyone involved, requiring 100 percent dedication to life in the public eye. The pressures of constant travel, eating take out, and talking ad nauseam about polls and surveys, speeches, and statistics, working the political system and being hoodwinked in the process, would put an inordinate amount of pressure on the best of families—and yet, the Romneys seemed to thrive during this time. Even when criticism came their way—and there was much of it—they all appeared to roll with the punches and laugh off the pundits, standing firm in their convictions as a close-knit family.

The viewer senses the Romney sons’ great pride in their dad and his supposed calling to make the world a better place, much like Romney’s father had done years ago. It is obvious that Romney is driven by the patriarchal legacy which started with his dad who rose from humble beginnings to become a captain of industry and then governor of Texas. This is the American dream of which fanciful stories are made. Again, regardless of our political convictions, it gives us comfort to know that the dream can still be attained.

Now to the issue of Mormonism—I was curious to see how the filmmakers would portray this very important part of Romney’s life. Mormonism is a bit of a mystery to Christians, because there are conflicting theological explanations regarding what Mormons actually believe. Do they believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and risen Savior who died to save all mankind? Not sure. But the viewer does see the family fall to their knees and pray to the Father before a big speech, asking for wisdom, favor, and God’s will—in the name of Jesus Christ. Very interesting! Some professing Christians are uncomfortable allowing the world to see them pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, but obviously the Romneys aren’t. I have to admit, I was shocked to see this, and pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was staged as a political ploy, but it sure seemed sincere to me. I’m choosing to believe it was honest and heart-felt.

What I enjoyed most about this film was the love Mitt and Ann have for each other and how that love has been cultivated in their entire extended family. As a wife, I admired Ann’s encouragement of her husband every time he received a bit of bad news or before he stepped out onto the public stage. I admired how their sons stayed positive and up-beat, even though they whispered to themselves that they weren’t in total agreement with every decision. It was very touching to see how the family dynamics were protected at all costs, even in the midst of a high-pressure, high-stakes political campaign. Even the best Romney critics must admit this is a family that deeply cares for each other and is fully devoted to a father who is willing to sacrifice everything to expose himself to public scrutiny.

I did expect to see a little bit of a nasty side to Romney, but the filmmakers did not show anything other than a bossy father who sometimes has to be proven wrong with a Google search. Sound familiar anyone? No, what the viewer sees is a quasi-saint who is willing to pick up trash off the hotel balcony and put a hot iron on his shirt cuffs minutes before walking onstage for a very important debate. We see a man who dotes on his wife, kisses his grandchildren, and who is willing to listen to opinions from his beloved sons even though he has decided to follow his gut instinct. We see a man who is well-versed in understanding the plight of the small businessman and the perils associated with starting a company, all of which make the viewer think that America made a very bad decision in reelecting Barack Obama as president. Again, opinions can vary, but the effect was very powerful.

On the contrary, Barack Obama was not painted as a monster or an inept candidate, but a very crafty, talented, well-spoken, and worthy opponent who would be very tough to defeat. In fact, I saw an undercurrent of doubt from Romney himself that the presidency would be his. On election night, there was a light-heartedness amongst the family, until one of the grandchildren trounced into the room and announced that a crucial state had been lost. Romney never faltered, almost as though he expected it. It wasn’t until more crucial states were lost that a moment of stunned silence filled the room. But then, Romney kept on being himself, showing no sign of sadness or deflation, but continued to laugh and have fun with his grandchildren. As the night progressed, he eagerly wanted to deliver his concession speech but was urged by his advisers to hold off a little longer. Even toward the end, he was a no-nonsense man who had trouble playing by the political rules. He went so far as to command the secret service not to accompany him back to the house. I don’t think he was successful there.

Once more, regardless of the viewer’s position on Romney, one cannot help but feel sadness for the family’s loss. Romney comes across as a nice, kind, handsome, seemingly happy person, with a caring heart who happens to have money, position and influence. Apart from the Mormonism, what’s not to like? No one wants to see nice guys lose. It’s hard to have hope in this world when nice guys finish last. It is at these times that we must place our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The final scene was extraordinary, and is well worth getting through to the end. Romney and Ann drive home in their beautiful Cadillac and pull into the garage of their gorgeous home. They quietly enter an empty house where Mitt plops into an easy chair in the family room which faces a large window overlooking the water. Ann tenderly sits on the edge of the sofa, gazing at her husband as he stares out into the distance. No words are needed, because the viewer can read their minds. What on earth did we just do? Why did we do it – twice? What were we thinking? What was the purpose behind all this? All of us have asked these same questions about our own lives and pray that one day we receive the answers. I hope the same can be said for the Romneys.

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