Weiner December 31, 2016
There’s Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937) and then there’s the grand delusion of Anthony Weiner’s disastrous run for Mayor of New York City in 2013. His last name a fitting bookend to his infamy, the general populace is more than a little likely to know more about Weiner’s personal life than his political beliefs. One might best recognize him as a politician with a tendency to sext, a pervert/politician that rose to the top of the late night talk show topic ladder in 2011 after posting a picture of his crotch on Twitter and additionally sending graphic text messages to various women. The same thing — minus the Twitter mistake — perked up once again in 2013 during the aforementioned run for major. A couple months ago, the New York Post reported that he had been up to his old fetishitic antics once again, with one nasty sent pic featuring his young son in arm.
Until watching this year’s Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg directed documentary, I didn’t even know that Weiner was a Democrat.
The man is a laughing stock, a pathetic embodiment of disappointment. And that’s why Weiner, which humorously covers his doomed mayoral campaign, is such a fascinating work of nonfiction. Stripping away the stinging jokes of Stephen Colbert and John Stewart, the constant reminders that Weiner felt the need to victimize a toothy twenty-two-year-old named Sydney Leathers under the alias Carlos Danger, and the sniggering that generally comes along with even uttering his last name, the doc’s more inclined to figure out why the man’s such a notorious dick. Though answers may not come easily.
Like the remarkably unsimilar Gimme Shelter (1970), it's ironic that Weiner was initially made to be one sort of documentary but inevitably ended up as another. Gimme Shelter, an iconic rockumentary that was supposed to chronicle The Rolling Stones’s 1969 US Tour with appealing grit, instead became a cultural artifact after capturing an ill-fated free concert that resulted in the deaths of several attendees.
While Weiner’s decidedly not a rockumentary, clear is that its subject hired Kriegman and Steinberg with the intent of the film being a comeback story caught on tape. If he weren’t so partial to sexting, it could have been. Before Leathers became Howard Stern’s favorite guest, leading in the polls was simple for the Democratic nominee; his political passions were, and perhaps still are, enticing to the everyman. But after digging himself deep into a grave of political doom does it become a compelling, unflinchingly personal account of failure.
Why he continued letting cameras roll in the wake of his second wave of scandal is fuzzy. Maybe he’s a narcissist with an unbreakable need to be a controversial center of attention. (Consider that he reacts to reports of him verbal accosting a naysayer at a Jewish bakery by only caring about how his bald spot looks in the video documenting the entire ordeal.) Or maybe letting Kriegman and Steinberg closely watch his every move superficially made him feel bigger in a world deservedly out to make him feel small.
Following viewing are we certain that Weiner’s an out-of-control egotist in desperate need of therapy and thumb amputation. But in watching are we more often taken aback by the loyalty of his campaign staff, and, most painfully, the devotion of his miles more intelligent wife Huma Abedin, a political staffer beloved by Bill and Hillary Clinton. By the end of the film, he hardly matters to us at all.
It’s hard to exactly empathize with Weiner during the film’s length because we’re so consumed by Abedin and the range of emotions she so helplessly experiences. This is a woman who’s faced public humiliation more than any person should have to in their lifetime. Who’s seen the sanctity of marriage tarnished by a man who treats her like an object incapable of being damaged. Who’s had her own personal and professional ambitions dirtied by a union wherein her supposed equal is dependably crippled by his broken moral compass. In so many scenes do we see her standing susceptibly by the documentary’s subject on the verge of tears, her mind discernibly at war with itself. Through our fondness of her does Weiner become the enemy. The film lenses her pain so excruciatingly we sometimes cannot bear to watch. No one should be as treated as badly as Huma Abedin was from 2010-2016. (She separated from Weiner earlier this year. Good for her.)
That Weiner is filmed with a touch of humor — at least from the perspectives of its makers; its eponymous fixture could use a little self-deprecation in his depressing life — is a blessing. The actions of this man are so often on the side of laughable ignorance that the movie benefits from such slight broadness. Intimate and brutally honest, this is one of the best films of 2016. A