Mayor Pete, 2021.
Directed by Jesse Moss.
Featuring Pete Buttigieg, and Chasten Buttigieg.
An inside look at Pete Buttigieg campaign to run for President of the United States.
The 2019 Iowa caucus is typically remembered for the botched and delayed voting results, and the surprise victory for openly gay South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Directed by Jesse Moss (no stranger to political documentaries, having done last year’s outstanding Boys State), Mayor Pete primarily chronicles the road to that primary election road pitstop, offering behind the scenes insight into the campaign and his relationship with husband Chasten.
Aware that he makes for one of the more unique potential presidential candidates while announcing his run, Pete quips that it will be the people’s only chance to vote for a Maltese-American, left-handed Episcopalian gay war veteran mayor. It also doesn’t take long before Pete skyrockets in popularity on the trail. However, it’s not without facing trials and tribulations that pressure him to bring more emotion to his speeches and stories rather than his stoic and private routine, something to balance without letting his identity slip away.
Well-intentioned and likable, Pete has a habit of reacting a tad defensively or not listening most productively (as seen handling a racially sensitive police shooting involving a white officer and a Black male, Eric Logan, in his South Bend backyard). There’s also a relatively sad moment during the Iowa caucus itself where Chasten questions why all the other candidates are on stage with their spouse except Pete. He doesn’t really have an answer, and confusingly, the documentary goes on like nothing happened, as if it’s afraid to have the hard conversations.
As the documentary begins, we witness a brief conversation between Chasten and filmmaker Jesse Moss. The former encourages the documentarian to probe Pete on whether or not he has been faithful to himself on the campaign trail. With that in mind, it’s up for debate if that’s accomplished or not to the fullest effect. Occasionally, Mayor Pete is willing to challenge its subject in those ways, but it also feels like a 90-minute safely edited and constructed feature on how he is aware of the mistakes he has made while keeping up hope that he will one day be America’s first gay president. It exists to reassure you that Pete does care (and I do not necessarily doubt that he does) and that he has trouble opening that up on stage to the public.
Mayor Pete is also oddly anti-climactic in that once he wins the Iowa caucus, it has nowhere to go but flying through the rest of the keynote events skipping over potentially important details or vital information related to his campaign. The film is only halfway committed to exploring how and why Pete took heat throughout 2019, mainly propping up the positive aspects into an inspiring feel-good story, which is fine if you only want to see and hear lip service without much bite, engagement, or profound enlightenment. It’s a disappointing piece of filmmaking walking on eggshells, making sure to paint Pete Buttigieg in bright strokes even when he’s burning up from the heat of the race.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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