From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: ‘Mayor Pete’ humanizes a groundbreaking presidential campaign

REVIEW: ‘Mayor Pete’ humanizes a groundbreaking presidential campaign
Pete Buttigieg in Jesse Moss’ documentary, “Mayor Pete.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg isn’t an outwardly emotional guy. 

“The stronger an emotion is, the more private it is,” Buttigieg said in a scene from “Mayor Pete,” a documentary by director Jesse Moss that explores the former mayor’s remarkable political journey. 

As it turns out, there’s a good reason for his calm, almost reserved disposition.

“When you meet multiple people a day who can tell you they’ve lost a loved one because of a policy failure on opioids or whatever it is, or what they went through in long term care or unemployment or racism or whatever they were facing — if you actually imbibed all of that, you would break,” Buttigieg said.

While this may help preserve Buttigieg’s mental health, any film made about him should emphasize the genuine emotions he shared to connect with his supporters.

“Mayor Pete” effectively captures the ups and downs of Buttigieg’s campaign and the momentum he gained on the national stage during the last presidential election. It does, however, focus too much on the public reaction to his sexuality and not enough on the myriad reasons he united people and gained support in the first place. 

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In short, the film lacks excitement.

The documentary devotes much time to tedious, loaded questions leveled at Buttigieg which nag about how his sexuality might impact the campaign. The footage then shifts to lowly political haters protesting his candidacy for homophobic reasons.

“The challenge was how to be honest and proud, but not to do it by swallowing what our campaign was about,” Buttigieg said in the film. “To some people it was a minor detail. For some people it was everything.”

While his campaign may not have been about his sexuality, much of the documentary is. We begin to question whether every bigot with something to say really deserves their five seconds of fame through the film. For a relatively short 96-minute feature, too much consists of filler while neglecting the aspects that made Buttigieg a one-of-a-kind candidate.

To his credit, Moss does include intimate, personal footage of his subject that humanizes Buttigieg outside of the political arena. Shots of him riding the subway, eating Blizzards with his husband, Chasten, and playing tug-of-war with his dogs fills out his image as a real person rather than an elite, larger-than-life figure.

Even for seasoned political junkies, watching his interactions with other candidates is fascinating material as well. We see Buttigieg exchanging small talk with Joe Biden, and awkwardly blurting out “Hey!” to Cory Booker as he rushes by. Capturing the small moments surrounding the narrative of national fame is what “Mayor Pete” does best, even if we don’t learn anything new of importance.

The film’s most notable scenes cover the roller coaster ride of Buttigieg’s introduction to national politics. An active-duty veteran and Harvard graduate who knows eight languages, Buttigieg still acknowledges a lack of experience compared to his competition. But he never personally questions his worthiness for office.

“I started to feel that what’s happening in our country and what’s happening in our city are more and more one and the same,” he told a group of supporters in the film. “Since what was happening in the city broadly worked, I realized that I had something to offer that was just different.”

The issue of racial justice earns careful consideration in this movie, and for good reason: in June 2019, a white police officer fatally shot a Black man on the streets of South Bend, where Buttigieg was mayor for eight years. The community was outraged. During the public relations crisis that followed, we witness Buttigieg walking the tightrope between embodying strength as a leader and remorse for the tragedy.

It’s fulfilling to see Buttigieg blossom from the earlier stages of his campaign to the very end; “Mayor Pete” offers an inside peek at his training during debate prep and war room meetings. Buttigieg’s improvement as an already-prolific public speaker becomes obvious as the film progresses.

And yes, they also poke fun at Bernie Sanders in private. 

The last half-hour of “Mayor Pete” is by far the most interesting part. It highlights his greatest hits on the debate stage and the campaign trail, from his jaw-dropping win in Iowa to his mantra of “addition, rather than division” that set him above the partisan hostility of his day.

While any references to his innovative signature policies in healthcare and climate change are scarce, they are hardly the point of “Mayor Pete.” After all, the transformative social movement that Buttigieg represents is what defined his campaign in history.

“It’s not that we’re winning, it’s just that we’re known,” Buttigieg said of his movement. When asked if he will run again in the future, the 37-year-old let a stoic smile spread across his face. “I don’t know what that means for the future. But time is on my side, I hope.”

“Mayor Pete” was exclusively released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday. 

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