When Josh called to tell me he wanted me to come over and watch this with him, my first thought was “no thank you.” My second thought was “wait, what?” and my third thought was “ok.”
Full disclosure of my multifaceted subject position:
– I think billionaires should be put into prison and horse-whipped daily
– I think it is most likely that all high-level politicians are some breed of psychopath or at least they would register at pants-shitting levels of narcissistic personality disorder were they willing to be tested
– I am married to a film theorist and due to his constant monologuing during film-viewings I have become sort of inured against a lot of the editing/musical choices made by filmmakers that are intended to emotionally manipulate the viewer
ON THE OTHER HAND:
– I hate seeing people get disappointed or hurt, particularly old men
This movie is being hailed as an amazingly “humanizing” portrait of our one-time would-be president. Everyone at Sundance or wherever was like “wow if this had come out before the election he definitely would have won.” So I was thinking this was going to be some incredible document of a man’s secret side and that I was going to have to work really hard to maintain my feelings of passionate loathing and disapproval for him.
But frankly I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I mean, are we supposed to be astonished that Mitt Romney seems to love his human sons? That he hugs his wife? As much as I think these guys are all monsters, I think even the most hardass liberal on earth probably is aware that they love their children and eat food and do other things “humans” do. That’s part of what makes them monsters–that they do actually experience love and other emotions, but ONLY for people directly related to them in some way. Millions of civilians in some loser country or in the inner city or whatever can go fuck themselves. It’s an extension of their narcissism, really, that they are only able to have feelings for what’s right in front of them (the mirror). George W. Bush would totally help you if you fell down on the sidewalk in front of him, and everyone would be like, wow, that’s so “human,” like we’re supposed to be impressed when our government officials don’t actively stomp right on our backs as we lay there helpless in front of them. Like, lets set the bar a little higher, America.
So yeah. In this documentary you will see Mitt Romney hug his terrifying wife, Anne. You will see Mitt Romney laugh at his creepy humanoid sons’ jokes. You will see Mitt Romney express amazement that the liberals don’t understand how they are destroying small businesses. And you will see Mitt Romney seem slightly depressed after losing first the 2008 primary and then the presidential election. If that is enough to give you a warm human feeling toward him, then I am sorry for you and a little bit scared of you.
I’ll go through my notes now and give you some of my indispensable commentary using my characteristic devil-may-care tone:
So, somehow this one Mormon filmmaker got this incredible access to the Romney clan, and basically hung out with them and a camera for years and years, and they only gave him one condition, which was that the movie couldn’t come out until it was all over one way or another. I have a lot of questions about this relationship and how this all went down, but kudos to you, filmmaker! This is definitely his Queen of Versailles but weirdly less interesting, just because his subjects are sort of wooden and boring.
Anyway, we open on the Romney family–Mitt, Anne, their five sincerely creepy human sons, and various small children who were unclearly attached to individual grownups–taking a vote about whether or not Mitt should enter the race. Mitt’s creepiest son, Josh, is worried that Mitt’s “message” will be lost because Mitt will seem “too good to be true,” so no one will vote for him. Let me just tell you that this is exactly the kind of scintillating political insight you can expect from Josh for the rest of the film, and that indeed it seems to me the biggest mistake Mitt made as a candidate–aside from, you know, being unable to interact with strangers, especially black ones, and generally giving everyone the howling fantods–was listening to his dumbass family, often even when they directly contradicted stuff his actual campaign team was telling him. And actually this flaw is surprising because one of the interesting things about this film is that you get to see a Serious Businessman at work and it is TERRIFYING. He seems so affable but then when he’s pissed about something he puts on this chilling Real-Life-Jack-Donaghy act and you can see people just dissolve into puddles of cold sweat. More on this later, but my point is just that you’d think such a freaking hardass number-crunching “what does the data say” guy wouldn’t let his weird son Josh give him political advice. Perhaps this is “humanizing?” That he listens to his family? Great. You’re welcome America–you were just almost ruled over by JOSH ROMNEY. It would’ve made “Billary” look like King fucking Solomon!
So the family, while worried because America might just not be ready for the blindingly beautiful light of their Dad, the quote unquote “best guy in the world” (–Josh, obvi), nonetheless point out that he has a “duty to the country” to run for president. “How about you start by just paying taxes?” said Jessica, one of my viewing mates, and I think she makes a great point about duty and about how presidential candidates who say this kind of warmed-over horseshit are usually just egomaniacs.
The Romney campaign is on the march! Spirits are high. We cut to a fabulously gay hotel clerk who says he gets all his news from the Daily Show and Colbert, and has never heard of Mitt Romney. These “man on the street” interviews where people say they’ve “never heard” of Mitt are meant to be charming, FYI, because ha ha, just think, in a few short years not a soul on God’s beautiful creation will have failed to hear about Willard “Mitt” Romney and his beautiful hair.
Mitt gives various fund-raising speeches. He is a staid and methodical public speaker; there is absolutely no verve or charisma but he does lay out his facts clearly and he seems affable enough for a guy who ruins tens of thousands of people’s lives every day for a living. At one point he says “there’re a lot of guys in this room who could run the country as good as I could” which is probably true but also isn’t saying much, if we’re talking a room full of unhealthy looking old white men who just paid $10,000 each to shake the hand of the guy who runs Bain Capital.
The brief interview with the guy who does the lighting for the primary debate was my favorite part of the film. The lighting guy is a GODDAMN ARTIST! He doesn’t care about politics! He had more passion for his craft than Mitt displayed for anything in this entire film. “Good for you, lighting guy!” Josh said wholeheartedly. LIGHTING GUY FOR PRESIDENT
At the debate it turns out that the terms of the debate have not been made clear–which is admittedly bullshit, you indeed would think (as Mitt points out later in a rare moment of pique) that at “this level” the great men plus Michelle Bachmann I think who are doing the debating would have been given at least one sheet of paper telling them how it’s gonna go down–and Mitt essentially makes the show-runner guy cry like a little baby. It was like when Rush Limbaugh ill-advisedly went on Letterman and Letterman just legitimately tore him seventeen new assholes but never stopped laughing and joshing around, like whatever you feel about Letterman that performance was SPECTACULAR, I saw it my junior year of high school and I’ll never forget it, and anyway later one of Letterman’s crewmembers said “I’d never seen someone sweat that much.” This is what I thought of while watching the debate show-runner dude sweat his actual balls off in the face of Mitt Romney’s frigidly cold biz-man disdain. Mitt set to work clarifying the terms of the debate in a style that revealed his cutthroat biz personality–unflappable/flapping everybody else–and I could suddenly EASILY imagine him firing 1,000 people at once and then going home to enjoy a hearty steak dinner. Like, say what you will about Mitt Rommey but he is clearly actually good at his job, which is being a sociopathically successful capital-accumulating machine. He’s not a George W. Bush character, who kind of actually is a bumbling jackass, who clearly couldn’t run a corner bodega. Mitt Romney is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I’m telling you. You should SEE HIS FACE during this scene. My stomach hurts just remembering it. (Is THIS the humanizing part? Because if so then you people are CRAZY, I’ve seen ROBOTS who scared me less)
The debate is a disaster, largely because of that asshole John McCain! Remember him?? “I brought change to company after company,” says Mitt, only to be interrupted by a snide aside from McCain: “We agree, you’re the candidate for change,” he says, getting a sort of ugly laugh from the audience. This, in case you’ve forgotten, is a reference NOT to the fact that Mitt fires people who go on to watch their children starve to death–which, after all, is a major plus in a Republican candidate–but rather to Mitt famously being characterized as a “flip flopper” during both his campaigns, which is my least-favorite political accusation. Valorizing people for never changing their minds! I don’t give a flying fuck about Mitt Romney but I have to agree with him that that is a lame critique of his candidacy. P.S. John McCain why don’t you look in a damn mirror, son? Talk about flip flopping!
There’s a sort of cinematic moment of foreshadowing later when Romney calmly yet with simmering emotional intensity says: “Barack Obama has changed this race. He’s changed our prospects.”
Okay so then we have the first of many scenes of the Romney family praying together, which perhaps is part of what others find “humanizing,” I guess? “BOW YOUR KNEES” says a crying Anne Rommey, and the parents and human grownup sons join hands and close their eyes while Anne begs their Heavenly Father (what Mormons call God) for guidance, using “thee” and “thou” and “thine” in a really off-putting and often grammatically incorrect way, while weeping. If this is the kind of thing that makes you feel warm and compassionate toward somebody then be my guest. Josh (my Josh, not the creepiest Romney son) pointed out that “praying for contest outcomes is nonsensical” which is obviously true, not to mention, as I pointed out, “profoundly un-Christian,” but like, when it comes to praying to a literal humanoid patriarchal Dad in the clouds I guess who’s counting.
Apparently God told Anne that Mitt could run, because in the next scene there he is, campaigning! Oh I should also point out that in the Romney home there are a series of IMMENSE oil paintings of what I presume are their sons, and that are never commented on but we rewound so we could see them again and we laughed so hard. I guess I don’t know why–there’s nothing inherently monstrous about having gigantic oil paintings of your children–but the way they were sort of ignominiously located over the weird Dell desktop computer at the business-nook where Anne was checking her Yahoo or whatever was just so funny. Who was commissioned to do those paintings?? Make a movie about THAT person.
They do a focus group of like 20 half-witted old people who say they now would vote for Mitt Romney after hearing information about him and Anne again bursts into tears. There is also a scene where Anne playfully grabs hold of a horse’s tongue while laughing, which I will admit I liked.
They talk a lot about “flipping,” which is short for “flip flopping,” but every time I hear it I think it’s a Mormon swear, like “fracking” on BSG.
It is interesting to watch Mitt apply his incredible businessman-evaluation-skill spidey sense to HIMSELF. He just coldly and brutally assesses data without ever revealing emotions about it. It’s kind of amazing! He calmly talks about Obama’s skills as a debater vs. his own lack of skill, citing data showing how effective good debating skill is in winning elections overall, etc. This is what I mean when I say it’s then surprising when he lets his son Josh angrily tell him to ignore all his campaign manager’s advice and just wing it or whatever. Is Josh the one that threatened to punch somebody? I wouldn’t be surprised.
I ask Josh (my Josh) why anyone would run for president–are they ALL serial killers, or is it something else–and Josh (who works in politics) said that it’s “50% just wanting approval, 20% wanting to ‘do good’ and then 30% is hubris.”
So the point is that we are in good hands.
There are mystery Coke bottles in a lot of shots. Where are the people slugging Coke around the Romney clan?? That’s not cool, is it?
There is a great, BRILLIANT scene where Anne sits idly swinging one leg and lecturing Mitt about how he needs to behave, while Mitt grunts monosyllabically and eats huge forkfuls of noodles.
One of the sons, I forget which but it sounds like something Josh would say, says, of the upcoming debate against Obama and imagining how his Dad must feel about it, that “I think I’d be a little intimidated.” Oh you do, huh, you think you’d be “a little” intimidated if you had to debate Barack Obama on live television, you piece of shit?
We see the Day That Shall Live In Infamy, when Mitt, captured on a waiter’s hidden camera, says that 47% of the country are lazy parasites who should all be herded onto a ship and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico (exaggeration). He later says that’s not what he meant, and that “it breaks [his] heart to see people are struggling.” I’ve got to tell you, I find this very hard to believe.
Mitt tells a story about a business owner he met who makes guitar amplifiers and who pays 65% of his profit to the government. (My) Josh says that this is impossible, but I think it must be like what Al Franken said about all of Ronald Reagan’s weird apocryphal anecdotes: “sure, it wasn’t true, but it was a good story.”
Here is a verbatim thing Mitt Romney says while angrily talking about the business climate created by Obama: “I was with Papa John? Of Papa John Pizza? He said he wouldn’t even start his business if he had to do it today!” THE HORROR
Mitt Romney worships his Dad. How long must our country groan and sweat in servitude at the feet of these men who want to be president because they have daddy issues? Mitt delivers an emo monologue about how amazing his Dad was because he was born in MEXICO and yet somehow became a millionaire, can you imagine, and it’s the most passionate we’ve ever seen him. (My) Josh gleefully yells “YOU’LL NEVER MEASURE UP!!”
I LITERALLY can’t tell the sons apart except for Josh, who is the handsome one and who is the most obviously a serial killer. At one point you can literally see him going to his “happy place” during an intense conversation, in which he imagines cutting women into little pieces. He is TERRIFYING. I can not take my eyes off of him.
At one point Jessica finally googled Josh and found a Gawker article calling him “the creepiest Romney son,” so it’s not just me. The article went on to say that Josh “could play a Batman villain as-is,” which pretty much sums Josh up as far as I’m concerned.
Oh dear the requisite sad-music part where we hear about Anne Romney’s multiple-sclerosis. CAN YOU IMAGINE the injustice of ANNE ROMNEY becoming sick and having to face the possibility of dying before she wants to? Well, imagine it, because it LITERALLY happened. I know this is difficult to accept and even more difficult to emotionally contend with, but unfortunately even Anne Romney sometimes faces struggles. Luckily, this does not cause her to question her faith in a benevolent God.
My point is that the Romney family isn’t just upset when bad things happen to them, they are ASTONISHED. They actually can’t believe it’s happening. And it’s not the normal denial a regular person would feel. It’s a defying of logic–they can’t make it compute. Josh describes his feelings upon hearing his mother’s diagnosis: “She can’t be sick. Not MY mom. This happens to OTHER people, not to me.” That is an actual quote, America, enjoy! (My) Josh, trying to be generous, says, “well that’s fair, that’s just denial,” but then Jessica points out “Yeah, but bad things DO happen to other people and not to him!” JOSH ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT.
There is a scene of Mitt ironing his own tuxedo sleeve while wearing it. “It’s workin’. It’s sorta workin’. Ouch. Ouch.” And then Anne says “Ok that’s good enough, Mitt, for GOODNESS sakes!”
While waiting for the second debate (in which, you will no doubt recall, Romney was straight-up obliterated by a Barack Obama who had somehow recovered from his bizarre non-performance in the first one) the family sits around a dinner table listening to David Sedaris on This American Life and laughing really hard, which I will admit was actually kind of charming.
After the terrible second debate the family is sitting in exhaustion in a dark Green Room and one of Mitt’s sons–again I can’t remember which but it REALLY seems like something Josh would do–starts arguing with him about how there’s no restaurants in the Delta terminal at some airport. It’s incredible. He actually googles a terminal map. Mitt is like “okay, okay,” like in that moment you can see the wages of raising five sons to be egomaniacal madmen, like son, what on EARTH are you doing here, I just got my ass handed to me by a goddamn Kenyan communist and you’re thrusting a googled Delta terminal map in my face? “Well, what would YOU do after an experience like that?” asks Jessica, and I say “I would lie on the floor and cry and poop my pants,” which is true. Like don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think I could do a better job debating BARACK OBAMA than Mitt Romney did. It would be a bloodbath. I’d be like “Votes for women!” and then he’d refer to some major policy decision I’d never heard of and he’d use some rhetorical twist I wouldn’t even be able to follow. It would be like the fantasy I have whenever I watch football where I try to imagine what would LITERALLY happen if I somehow magically materialized on the field in full uniform and they had to keep playing the game with me in it. I hold that I would INSTANTLY die, that like I’d get the ball (somehow) and then a dude would run into me and my head would pop off and go flying into the stands and everyone would start screaming and racing for the exits and it would cause a riot. Steve says I wouldn’t die, I’d just get the wind knocked out of me. I think he is just blinded by his unwillingness to imagine my body being instantly vaporized, which is to his credit for he loves me.
Mitt Romney trying to speak to humans is EXCRUCIATING. (My) Josh plays me the YouTube video of Romney weirdly saying “who let the dogs out. who. who.” while doing a photo-op with black people. He plays it over and over again. It is stunning. Also, Mitt Romney is always tidying up. In every scene he’s like in the background picking up paper plates off the floor and stuff.
The final scenes are of course of Romney losing the presidential election. I am exhausted and sincerely could not give one shit about a single person in this film, which I think means the film failed, although who knows what that filmmaker was shooting for. The Secret Service drives Mitt and Anne home and they sadly walk together into (one of) their palatial 20-bedroom mansions and sit down in the living room and look at each other like “what now” and that’s the end of the film.
In conclusion, I have no idea. I have gained no further insight into humanity or what makes a man tick. My feelings for Mitt Romney are utterly unchanged, except that I am now afraid of his son Josh, who I believe is running for governor of Florida or something heinous like that right now. Like here are these five human sons and you can tell that THIS is the one with the inherited Daddy issues. THIS is the one to watch out for, America.
Oh also I will point out that the Romney campaign did not bother to write a concession speech, which is hubris of a staggering nature and which (My) Josh, who remember works in politics, described as “insane.” In the five minutes before he has to call Obama to concede, Romney sits with his family and tries to write a speech. The results, as you’d expect and as you perhaps remember, are, in a word, lame.