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Review: Mayor Pete (2021)

Mayor Pete (2021)

Directed by: Jesse Moss

Premise: A documentary film about Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana who ran for President of the United States in 2020. 

What Works: The most interesting aspect of Mayor Pete is the relationship between the candidate and his husband Chasten Buttigieg. Running for the nation’s highest office is necessarily a family affair and many of the documentary’s most interesting and telling moments involve Chasten. Interestingly, for a film that is a promotional piece on Pete Buttigieg, the marital aspect is the most unsparing and unflattering part of the documentary. Like any political couple, Pete and Chasten have to negotiate how they are going to present themselves. At times Chasten appears frustrated and exhausted by the campaign process and in at least one instance he’s plainly hurt by Pete’s political calculations. Chasten is clearly committed to his spouse, to the cultural implications of a gay presidential candidate, and the message the Buttigieg campaign sends to young GLBTQ citizens. Chasten is oftentimes the most interesting personality of the film because of his emotional transparency, a quality that Pete Buttigieg lacks.

What Doesn’t: The main focus of Mayor Pete is Buttigieg’s status as the first high profile out-of-the-closet candidate for president. That’s about all this documentary has to offer. Those who followed Buttigieg’s campaign and even those who didn’t are unlikely to learn anything from this documentary. This is a promotional piece intended to set up Buttigieg as a future political star. But as a profile of a man and a politician, there is almost nothing to it. Most documentaries of this sort offer a compelling origin story. That’s not the case here. The early portion of Mayor Pete acknowledges Buttigieg’s tenure as mayor of South Bend and the ways that the city improved under his leadership. But this is only covered in broad strokes. Neither the candidate nor the film go into any detail or offer ideas about how a similar transformation can be enacted on the country at large. The film is much more interested in Pete Buttigieg as a cultural figure. The filmmakers keep coming back to his sexual orientation and present Buttigieg as the messenger for a civil and more hopeful brand of politics. But there’s no substance to it. As presented in this film, Buttigieg offers no vision for the country beyond vague platitudes. Mayor Pete never tells us who this man is or what he stands for. Based on his milquetoast answers, Buttigieg may not know either.

DVD extras: Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Bottom Line: Mayor Pete is a ninety-six-minute campaign ad complete with slogans and family photo ops. If Buttigieg survives to become a major figure in national politics this documentary may become an interesting media artifact but no one will come away from Mayor Pete knowing anything meaningful about this man.

Episode: #882 (December 12, 2021)