For many folks under 50, this documentary will be surprising, if not revelatory. Why? It reveals the fact that, at the time of his presidential election, Jimmy Carter was considered hip. So much so, in fact, that some of his best friends were the music icons of the 1970s. A parade of chart-topping names speak to Carter's personality, character, and leadership style, explaining his unique campaign tactic of winning over voters one music note at a time. As might be expected for the era, with rockers came drugs -- and Carter, who wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve, didn't mind that. In fact, he used it to his advantage. That might seem shocking to some, and yet, when explained, it makes perfect sense -- especially when you put yourself in the moment.
Director Mary Wharton's interview subjects (including a charming, easygoing Carter himself) explain how Carter's unique circumstances -- he was a small-town liberal with strong Christian values who grew up in a Black community in the South -- made him a unicorn candidate in the '70s. He was the right man to bring disenchanted Republicans and riled up Democrats together at a time when government corruption had been exposed. Wharton goes on to show the eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner as a man of integrity who triumphed through most of his time in office -- just not in the challenging final stretch -- and who continued his humanitarian work in a substantial way after leaving office. That said, Carter's political missteps went beyond Iran and OPEC, and while it's mentioned that fellow Democrat Ted Kennedy ran against him (extremely unusual for an election involving a sitting president), the reasons why are glazed over. Sometimes we can look back at history with rose-colored glasses, and, in Carter's case, we may want to. But it doesn't serve us to remember only what worked, and not what didn't. When reviewing American history, this effort shows us that Carter had some razzle-dazzle in his day, but it falls short of comprehending why and how Carter dealt with the challenges he faced during his years as the leader of the free world.