Synopsis: With extraordinary access to the candidate, an inside look at the 2020 Pete Buttigieg campaign for President of the United States.
Stars: Pete Buttigieg, Chasten Buttigieg
Director: Jesse Moss
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: As I began watching Mayor Pete, I started to get this uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I suddenly began to long to check a bunch of news sites that had laid dormant in my history for over a year and felt the urge to confirm the events of the last twelve months hadn’t all been some Dallas-style Bobby-Ewing-was-just-in-the-shower dream. That PTSD related to the November 2020 election is still alive for many, and this documentary about the race to secure Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic nominee for President wasn’t the first major media I had faced that reminded me what our country went through. It was, however, one of the more interesting looks inside the inner workings of a campaign that sought to change and challenge the status quo. While it doesn’t delve quite as deeply as it could, there’s an interesting portrait provided of a hometown boy makes good while living his life in a way many sadly still condemn.
Full disclosure, I was never going to vote for Pete Buttigieg to be on the ballot for President. As a gay man myself, trust me, it had nothing to do with his home life or anything like that. It was simply that I had other candidates that I leaned toward more at that time. I think the former Mayor of South Bend, IN has a strong political future and after watching this new documentary streaming on Amazon Prime from director Jesse Moss (Boys State) I’m inclined to think we’ll see him around for a long time.
The current Secretary of Transportation under President Joe Biden, Buttigieg made the bold move to run for President without holding an office higher than his Mayoral post. While not unheard of, experience is such a key factor for many voters that his lack of political years in office as a governor or senator meant he faced an uphill battle, not to mention he was also an out gay man married to his husband, Chasten. Conservative America had only recently elected the first African American president and still was unsteady about a woman holding the top elected office…would they accept a gay man in that same position?
The film shows that Buttigieg didn’t seek to “normalize” himself as much as refocus the discussion on the things he thought really mattered to the American people…and how that largely succeeded in advancing him far into the races for a time. Working with his skilled team of young and hungry staff, including senior communications director Lis Smith, a strong and at times foul-mouthed (hence the R-Rating) powder keg, Buttigieg parlays his inexperience in the larger political arena into a benefit in being the change people were seeking for 2020. For what it’s worth, you can see the idealism present before, during, and (importantly) after the campaign. If Buttigieg was greatly discouraged with the overall outcome, Moss doesn’t show it and I don’t get the impression this is a total puff piece by the director.
It can be, at times, though. I think the film skims the surface of the personal life of Buttigieg and rarely digs too deeply into his family history or much in the way of his life with Chasten. If this was going to be about the man that wanted to be President and lost, giving more context into who he is would help so the next time he’s up to bat there is more info out there for people to draw from. Keeping those chapters out of this book makes the story feel incomplete and Buttigieg winds up still being that frustrating enigma he was, which I believe cost him the overall primary votes. It has to be said that his husband also has some…interesting ideas about how much he should be involved and included. I’m not saying he has an Eva Peron vibe to him but…Don’t Cry for Chasten, South Bend.
Far from a frivolous composition but lacking greater detail to make the story come off as complete, Mayor Pete is a perfectly entertaining watch for ninety minutes and should make fans of his on any level happy. If you voted for him, you’ll enjoy seeing this process unfold. If you didn’t vote for him but liked the energy he brought in challenging his more experienced colleagues, I think you’ll appreciate watching the way he thinks about politics and his place in it. All those that voted for the other guy…maybe give this a watch and see how a friendly, but still competitively agile, campaign can be run by intelligent staff.