So many politicians today are either heels or hoods—ruthless liars too far from the definition of role models to make trustworthy subjects for a documentary. Pete Buttigieg whose meteoric rise from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana to youngest —and only—openly gay presidential candidate in U. S. history, is a rare exception. As the focus of Mayor Pete, a fascinating chronicle of his 2019-2020 campaign, he’s living proof that decency, integrity, and liberty and justice for all still work in American politics. His story is like a good book you just can’t put down for fear that you might miss something.
MAYOR PETE ★★★
Running time: 1 hour, 36 mins.
After Studebaker shut down in the 1960s, South Bend was declared one of America’s dying cities. When Mayor Pete became the city’s 32nd mayor in 2012, he turned around the housing crisis, raised the minimum wage, boosted unemployment and transformed shuttered factories into parks and recreational facilities. Following two popular terms, he threw his hat into the ring to make a new home in the White House and won the 2020 Iowa caucuses. The tables quickly turned in the New Hampshire primary and when he lost South Carolina, he graciously dropped out, clearing the way for Joe Biden. But the die was cast, and America had discovered a new rock star to sweeten the toxic political ozone. Smart, handsome, charismatic and down to earth, Mayor Pete (the label stuck) has been appointed to the Biden-Harris cabinet as the Minister of Transportation. It’s not the most glamorous or the most important cabinet post on Capitol Hill, but when you’ve wanted to be President since the age of six, you gotta start somewhere.
The documentary, directed by Jesse Moss and keenly written by Jeff S. Gilbert, doesn’t say much about Mayor Pete we don’t know already, but it underscores the fact that he’s got all the right values—agendas for minorities, criminal justice reform, and a passion for upholding and protecting Democracy. He’s not an easy subject, because he’s refreshingly but annoyingly introverted and quiet, reflective instead of noisy and talkative—but ready for action when action is needed. We need fresh, new blood in Washington, as well as inclusive ideas. He answers every question—even the controversial, adversarial ones like systemic racism and same-sex marriage—truthfully, honestly, and without flinching. He regards politics not as a way of life, but as a way to get things done. Cool, calm and collected, he’s often misinterpreted by his critics as stoic and dispassionate, but the film analyzes these qualities and gives equal time to his husband, Chastain, an integral part of his campaign team and a vigorous, outspoken partner in love, life, and politics. Chastain must have seen the film Call Me By Your Name. He doesn’t seem to have a name of his own, but identifies himself as Chastain Buttigieg. Since the film’s completion, the couple became the parents of twins.
Mayor Pete is so unmistakably reverent to its subject that I fear some viewers might call it toadying. But what he stands for is the permission to hope for a better future. Considering what we’ve been through recently, I’d rather fawn over a hero in the making than moan over a rotten past.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.