Pete Buttigieg, the former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and current United States Secretary of Transportation, is potentially the future of the Democratic Party. Last year, however, he attempted to be its present, running for President of the United States of America. Mayor Pete, the new Amazon Prime documentary, follows his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President. Not only was he a young Mayor, attempting to buck political conventions, he also represented the first openly gay candidate for the highest office in the land. The fact that his sexuality was not the dominant focus of his campaign is a sign of how far we’ve come, but also the fact that it even mattered shows how far we still have to go. The doc goes inside his quest to win the nomination, while also introducing us to who Buttigieg is as a person.
Mayor Pete looks at the Pete Buttigieg Presidential campaign from the inside and the outside, but it is at its best when looking at the man himself. When it’s doing that, you learn more about him as a husband and a man, as opposed to where he stands as a politician. That might not immediately convince you to vote for him if/when he runs again, but it does allow you to get a sense that you know him a little better, and that’s what makes for a better documentary, anyhow.
The doc follows Pete Buttigieg as he attempts to take his (mostly) successful tenure as Mayor of the small Indiana city of South Bend and translate that into the Presidency. Initially seen as close to a long shot candidate, Buttigieg (or Mayor Pete, as he presents) stands out from the pack by being young and potentially a symbol of the future. That, and when he stands with his spouse, he’s standing with his husband Chasten Buttigieg. Introducing himself and his family to voters, he encounters some homophobia, but by and large, his ideas and presentation connects with voters, vaulting him towards the top of the field as things begin to shape up.
As Mayor Pete campaigns, we also see his home life with Chasten, as well as candid conversations with them both. With the Iowa caucus looming as the first real test, the pressure builds for the Buttigieg campaign to actually pull off a win. Those of you who follow politics know what happens (and the fact that Joe Biden is President does spoil things a bit), but watching it unfold is quite interesting. Plus, getting to know this candidate, who often seemed to be a bit robotic on the campaign trail, is actually refreshing.
Watching Pete Buttigieg on the campaign trail is one thing, but watching him talking more privately, especially at home, is another entirely. He comes off incredibly well here, showcasing a genuine sense of public service that he didn’t always showcase in speeches. He feels like a real human being, not just a politician, which some of his rivals struggle with (aside from now President Biden, who is incredibly warm to him at an Iowa event where the likes of Andrew Yang avoid him). Mayor Pete is a simple documentary, but in telling his story, it’s quite effective.
Director and co-writer Jesse Moss lets Buttigieg be almost entirely the focus, whether it’s in conversation or in campaign footage. His staff chimes in, but Mayor Pete is indeed about Mayor Pete. Moss’ direction is low on style points, but there’s substance here, so a credit to Moss, alongside co-writers Jeff Seymann Gilbert and Amanda McBaine, for not making it just hero worship.
Mayor Pete is fascinating, especially if you’re a political junkie. The doc won’t blow anyone away or contend for Academy Award attention, but it tells its story well. If nothing else, you’ll leave this with a new appreciation for Pete Buttigieg. If he winds up running for President again or even winds up winning the office, you’ll know more about who this guy is. Going in, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about him. After this, he still may not be politically my ideal candidate, but as a man, he’s someone you want to see succeed.