“Running With Beto,” the recently released HBO documentary, not Beto’s stream-of-consciousness blog post, lasts an extremely long one hour and 33 minutes and doesn’t have any Easter eggs in the closing credits. Whether it definitively offers any new information is altogether another subject.
Making it all the way through “Running With Beto” reminds us that Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke ran for the Senate in 2018 and did much better against incumbent Ted Cruz than expected, raised a ton of money from small donors, and loves the f-word.
He loves it a lot. He’s not afraid to deploy it publicly. He’s also not big on scripted performances, which may be more a bug than a feature and explain why he trots out the swears.
The film, which features a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, follows O’Rourke across Texas as he visits every county, berates his road manager Cynthia Cano on multiple occasions while telling her to tell him what he’s supposed to talk about, and fails to ever really offer any concrete ideas. That may be a feature and not a bug, given his tendency to say things like, “Guys, check this, this is biblical. I’ve never seen this many birds. If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to do long-haul trucking,” when he sees a large flock of birds.
Maybe he blogged about that. I’ll leave such research to you. As to visiting all the counties in the state, that wasn’t nothing. O’Rourke does grasp retail politics, initially using “we” in all his early statements about why they were running and what they hoped to accomplish.
There are also nods to skateboarding, punk rock, Whataburger, and more vague platitudes of varying historical literacy. Discussing the border crisis and political battle, O’Rourke says, “This country was not built on fear; instead it was built on an unstoppable determination to do the job at hand.” Okay, man, whatever you say.
It’s around this point that we’re reminded he spent two years away from his family for this. His kids write him letters and leave him sad voicemails. He berates Cano more. His campaign manager and campaign chiefs show obvious exasperation with his general refusal to go negative against Cruz. Except when he does go negative in debates.
There are also stories of various true believers peppering it. They are really into Beto. They rarely discuss policies, instead saying things like, “Elections are a matter of life and death!” and promising to do a spiritual cleanse of Cruz’s office before O’Rourke takes residence in it. There’s a young activist who wants to meet with him regarding gun control, to see if he’s really a proponent or just looking for support. Beto convinces him and the young man campaigns on his behalf.
Bobby Frank continues driving around, wildly gesticulating and standing on things. Election day happens. It’s called for Cruz. Hope gives way to despair. On his way to deliver his concession speech, O’Rourke runs into the young activist and seemingly doesn’t immediately recognize him, although the name clicks. The activist asks for a hug and says, “F-cking love you, dude.” Beto, who is firmly into “I” and not “we” territory at this point in the campaign, responds, “Thank you.”
He talks to his campaign staff and apologizes for being a jerk. He says some more about Whataburger and other things before taking the stage to deliver a rollicking speech before the end credits.
It’s during the concession speech that he really speaks to me for the first time. Buoyant and energetic, he tells the crowd, “I’m so f—ing proud of you guys!”
It took me three times to watch the entirety of “Running With Beto.” The first I started like 20 minutes in and didn’t really pay attention when I realized I was going to watch the entire thing. The second I started 30 minutes in after my DVR decided to act like Beto about letting me access my recordings and I was getting desperate about writing this review. I gave up and took my kids to play outside because I still needed to see the beginning and I realized I could watch it using HBO Go.
The third, the only viewing in which I watched the film in its entirety, was the one where that now-famous line from his concession speech connected. At only an hour and 33 minutes, it’s not a long documentary, but it’s really, really boring. So when Beto said those infamous words, I felt them.
I know, buddy, I’m proud of me for making it to the end of it, too.