The clickety-clack of high heels through various corridors of power is a constant in “Pelosi in the House,” documentarian Alexandra Pelosi’s film about her mother, Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi.
“For my entire adult life I’ve been two steps behind you with this camera, trying to keep up with you,” Alexandra says off-camera as she races through the U.S. Capitol building with the fast-moving congresswoman. “Mom, do you realize that? You walk at a pace. It’s hard to keep up with you.”
“I’m a workhorse, not a show horse,” replies the elder Pelosi, a statement that’s validated many times over in this refreshingly personal account of a life spent in politics.
The HBO documentary, which premieres Tuesday, briefly covers the California Democrat’s upbringing in a devout Catholic household of Baltimore politicians, and her three decades in Congress, including the landmark moment in 2007 when she broke a centuries-old glass ceiling to become the first female speaker of the House.
Even Alexandra’s montage of the various pumps (blue, yellow, pink) that Pelosi has worn while governing through six presidencies is a slice of Beltway history. But the film mainly focuses on the most challenging and dangerous period in the 82-year-old’s career, the Trump presidency.
Nancy Pelosi announced last month that she would not be seeking another term as House speaker after a kidnapping attempt gone awry. A politically motivated intruder broke into her San Francisco home and attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, 82, with a hammer. He suffered serious injuries, from which he is still recovering. The suspect, who intended to assault Pelosi, prosecutors allege, has been charged with multiple federal counts, including assault on a family member of a U.S. official and attempted kidnapping of a federal official, along with state charges.
Although the documentary does not cover the attack, it does capture the disturbing rise of threats and violence toward politicians and public servants, from the inflammatory “death panel” hysteria the preceded the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Pelosi in the House” is not a wonky political production, a biographical deep dive or a formal look at a lifetime of government service à la the 2018 documentary “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls.” It’s a daughter’s ode to her mother at a particularly perilous time, designed to humanize a leader whose been viciously targeted.
Candid interviews and footage only a daughter could procure are the main appeal of “Pelosi in the House.” There’s the speaker at home in her pajamas, negotiating over the phone with then-Vice President Mike Pence as she does the laundry. At the office, she’s embarrassed and entertained by memes of her viral, condescending clap during then-President Trump’s first State of the Union address in 2018. And in public, Pelosi bites back at lefty protesters and right-wing operatives alike when they dare suggest she’s violating her oath of office.
Husband Paul is shown throughout the film, at home dozing in a chair, or at her office or staying out of the limelight as Nancy takes the stage. When Alexandra turns her camera on him at a work party and asks why he’s there, he answers, “I’m just here for the pistachios.” “You made that joke last year,” she says. “It’s good to be consistent,” he quips.
But in more foreboding moments, you see Paul Pelosi being harangued outside his home by Iraq war protesters, or while in D.C., asking someone via cellphone why the house was left unlocked. He appears vulnerable, while his wife operates with the iron will of a warrior.
Ultimately, the film is a portrait of Nancy Pelosi’s tireless dedication to country and principle, despite the cost, although it’s unlikely that Pelosi detractors will see it that way. When Alexandra asks her mother how she weathers all the rancor, the speaker remembers something she read overseas: “It was a saying in an African hospital: ‘When one day I die and happily go to meet my maker… he will say to me, “Show me your wounds.” And if I have no wounds to show him, he will say, “Was nothing worth fighting for?”’ I’m proud of my wounds.”
‘Pelosi in the House’
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday; 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday
Streaming: HBO Max, any time
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under age 14)
This story originally appeared on LATimes