Who Is ‘Mayor Pete’? New Documentary Looks Inside the Presidential Campaign

Still image from the documentary, 'Mayor Pete', in which Pete Buttiege takes a selfie with the crowd at a campaign rally
Amazon Studios presents "Mayor Pete"

Pete Buttigieg may now be the Secretary of Transportation, but it wasn’t that long ago that many of us were asking, “Who is this Mayor Pete guy?” A new Amazon Studios documentary tries to answer that question by following the former South Bend mayor’s 2020 presidential campaign, from debate prep to his on-the-trail interactions with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden to his more intimate moments with his husband, Chasten.

The documentary, which played to a full house at the Twin Cities Film Festival, opens on a behind-the-scenes discussion waiting for Buttigieg to appear for an interview along the lines of “he won’t want to talk about himself, but you have to try to get him to open up.” For better or worse, that sets the tone for the rest of the film, which comes off as an extended campaign ad rather than an intimate look behind the curtain.

An openly gay mayor of a conservative town? Even Buttigieg himself commented on how remarkable that seems. Then he aimed to be the youngest president of the United States. Now he’s the country’s first openly gay Cabinet member. With that set up, the audience walks in expecting a great story, perhaps with insights into his past, his previous policy work, or his family (aside from the public-facing Chasten)—which makes it all the more disappointing that the film offers few deeper insights that the public didn’t already know.

Really the only memorable conversation to make it into the film that even touches on his previous policy work finds Buttigieg struggling to properly address a police shooting in South Bend that occurred during his campaign. Given the events in Minneapolis over the last two years, this moment comes off especially poignant for Twin Cities audiences (some people after the screening even remarked how similar it was to watching Minneapolis’ own mayor address conflict). But then the conversation swiftly changes to how his campaign isn’t reaching people of color and it’s back to business as usual.

That seems to be par for the course for this documentary: as soon as the topic starts getting “real,” the focus quickly shifts and leaves the nuances of introverted Buttigieg and his past unexplored. Instead, other characters seem to steal the show—notably Chasten and the campaign communications director, Lis Smith.

Between Chasten’s eloquent vulnerability and goofy antics, and Smith’s straight-forward outspokenness, the two of them account for the majority of the emotional element in the documentary—both the highs and the lows. And it’s the two of them who constantly urge Pete to be more open and authentic, driving what little story arch we get from Pete himself.

Ultimately, the cast of characters that surround Buttigieg, paired with the rush of running a campaign and a jaunty, happy-go-lucky musical score makes for pleasant viewing. It’s not the hard-hitting expose that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, but it’s an enjoyable ride. Buttigieg’s supporters will enjoy seeing him in a slightly more intimate setting and seeing some of the behind-the-scenes planning that went into his campaign. Even his critics who might say that the documentary doesn’t quite dig deep enough into the man behind the quiet smile might fight reason to respect how heartfelt he ran his campaign.

Mayor Pete premieres worldwide on Amazon Prime Video on November 12.

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