Another worthy audience for this film would be anyone thinking about
running for office. This movie offers a glimpse of what it's like to
endure the process, which has the appeal of a terminal illness and many
of the similarities. Stress is a constant. Your sons, daughters, and
spouse feel the abuse heaped on you more than you do. There's a lot of
time spent in waiting rooms, and if you're the one with flagging
health—in this case the candidate—you have to stomach everyone around
you constantly trying to make you feel better. At the end, if you lose,
it's like attending your own funeral, as Romney explains, where you have
to walk the long line of people breaking down in front of you as they
mourn your loss. If you are a prospective candidate, this film might
help you test whether you have that elusive "fire in the belly" that
candidates are supposed to have before the put in the order for the hats
and the bunting.
So it's a little bracing when the candidate who tiptoed around his religion blurts out that voters know him as the "flipping Mormon." Or, when Romney, who like all candidates, spent his days pitching himself as the unique solution to America's problems and who never seemed ruffled, shows moments of doubt, suggesting at one point that he was a "flawed candidate." We've read about Barack Obama having these kinds of moments, but we've never had this kind of sustained up-close look at the most covered president in history.
It's also one thing to hear a son say he believes in his dad, as all
the Romney boys did in their media interviews, but it’s another to watch
Tagg Romney tear up as he tries to convince his father to run for
president in the movie's opening scene. "If you don’t win, we’ll still
love you,” he says. “The country may think of you as a laughingstock,
and we’ll know the truth, and that’s OK. But I think you have a duty to
your country and to God to see what comes of it.” Or, to watch Romney
explain to his sons why his own father was the "real deal," while he
merely achieved what he did because he was given a good start. When
Romney realizes he has lost, his first questions are to his sons: He
wants to know whether his loss will mess up their lives in any way.
Seeing Romney's faith—perhaps the most guarded aspect of the man—reminds us just how thick the nonsense was from people like Pastor Robert Jeffress who claimed that Romney wasn’t a "real Christian." The candidate ends his prayers with a special appeal "in the name of Jesus Christ," and before a debate he draws a sun on his cheat sheet to remind him of a New Testament passage. For any Christian, this portrait is perhaps the best model of sustained, private faith from a politician we've ever seen—distinct from the showy speeches and empty moralizing to interest groups we've grown accustomed to. This is a view of a man and a family where faith is as much a part of their lives as the strong chins and resilient hair.
To give us this personal view, the filmmaker leaves out a lot. We see Romney sleeping on the floor of his plane, but 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. Surely the Romney clan had spats, which would have made all that hugging and love even more impressive. Since we never see those moments, the family sometimes appears like a living room in a Restoration Hardware catalog—too perfect for any actual human interaction.
The film does not make the case for a Romney presidency either. Just
because he's a great family man doesn't mean he should be president.
Otherwise, those qualities would be enough to get Romney's fans to like
President Obama, who is, by all accounts, just as devoted to his
family. If these vignettes had come out during the campaign, perhaps in
an effort to make the candidate more "likeable," it would not have
changed the outcome—indeed, it probably would have only opened the
candidate and his family to the witless ridicule that is a part of the
modern campaign. That Romney protected his family space as much as he
did is a testament to him as a father, something we now understand
better after seeing this film.