By Daniel Ben-David
PETER Paul Montgomery Buttigieg, or Mayor Pete as he became affectionately named during his 2020 bid to be the Democratic nomination for President, looks on paper like something created in the labs of the Democratic establishment to be the perfect candidate.
A gay Harvard graduate veteran hailing from a medium-sized town in the Midwest, Pete is sharp, articulate, likable, thoughtful, moderate, Christian, staunchly pro-Israel but critical of Netanyahu, good looking, clean-shaven with a full head of hair, plays instruments and is multilingual.
He exudes the cool, calm, and collected aura and relaxed intelligence of party heavyweights like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and is young enough to not just get the millennial vote – but to be a millennial himself.
It’s a wonder the Democratic Party didn’t fall head over heels for him- although clearly, in the end, neither did the electorate.
Much like the man himself, Mayor Pete is well put together and honest, often allowing audiences an intriguing glimpse into a campaign of modest beginnings that was thrust into the national spotlight.
It has all the makings of a dark horse or underdog story as we watch Pete and his team capitalize on an impressive Town Hall showing, snowballing national momentum and a media frenzy, climaxing in his win in the Iowa caucus.
In what is sometimes, perhaps, an all too obvious attempt at humanising him, interspersed and juxtaposed between these frantic scenes of debate preparation and media appearances and roaring crowds are shots of Pete at home doing the laundry in his pyjamas and feeding his dog.
In its best moments, Mayor Pete demonstrates a strong case for Pete Buttigieg’s leadership and competence.
Director Jesse Moss’ fly-on-the-wall documenting style provides insight into the human experience leading a national political campaign. This is particularly the case during some candid, even sweet, scenes between Pete and his partner of six years, Chasten.
It does prove satisfying to watch Pete calmly swatting off cynics and homophobic hecklers with all the swag and stoic calculation of someone who’s been doing it for years.
At its worst, Mayor Pete feels like one long cheesy advertisement for a politician.
Who financed the project or why it was filmed so early on in Pete’s presidential bid in the first place is never made clear.
Rather than letting the words carry their own weight, in one painfully eye-rolling scene a speech of Pete’s is put to inspiring background music, making for an excruciating viewing experience where one finds oneself involuntarily squirming in their seat.
Mayor Pete has all the components to be a fascinating character study chronicling the man who would be President however, again like Pete himself, there is a distinct lack of flavour and depth, coming across at times as over-rehearsed and staged.
We want to like it- rooting for it, even- but it just doesn’t quite hit home. The ingredients are all present, but the meal falls short.
Pete and his campaign would be the first to admit that such criticism probably comes down to his introverted and reserved nature. He certainly is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
As Lis Smith, Pete’s Communications Director, says in one scene about his debate preparation: “He’s gotta show more life, more conviction. Because he’s coming across as the fucking tin man up there.”
Pete himself says he has good reason for his stoicism: “When you’re a candidate and you’re encountering multiple people a day who can tell you about losing a loved one because of a policy failure,
“If you actually imbibed all of the consequence of that in all of its emotional meaning, with all of the suffering that went with it, you would break. It’s only because you find a way to contain it that you can you be useful to people.”
Nevertheless, the film successfully records Pete’s rise to stardom from a four-man team with no money and no name recognition to the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in US history.
In a particularly illustrative demonstration of Pete’s political elevation the film begins with him attempting to make a phone call to a senator to wish him a happy birthday, being asked to repeat his name and then being put on hold. The condescension is only exacerbated when we overhear the pre-recorded message “Your call is very important to us.”
By the end of the film Pete receives a phone call from Barack Obama, now apparently on a first-name basis, congratulating him on a campaign well run.
Though its bland at times, and cheesy at others, and an obvious grab at future votes, there are two certain conclusions from Mayor Pete.
One, that the film is unlikely to lose Pete Buttigieg any fans or hurt his brand.
And two, that he won’t be Secretary of Transportation forever.
As Pete himself says: “Time is on my side, I hope.”
Mayor Pete is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Featured Image: Amazon Studios
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