If you pay any attention to politics or even periodically watch the news then you surely remember the scandal that brought Anthony Weiner’s promising political career to a screeching halt. Even if you didn’t know anything about his political career in the years before the scandal you no doubt have the lumpy image of his underwear clad nether regions burned into your brain for the rest of your life. The documentary appropriately titled Weiner provides a fly on the wall’s insight into not just the infamous scandal that rocked the former congressmen’s career, but into his rapid rise to popularity representing New York’s 9th district, and his recent attempt to reenter the political arena.
I pay a pretty fair amount of attention to politics and I was vaguely familiar with Congressman Weiner before he ruined his career by sending crotch shots to an online admirer. That being said, not being a New Yorker, I wasn’t aware just how popular he was as a Congressman before his downfall. I remember seeing a few of his speeches in front of the House of Representatives, and finding him charismatic and articulate, but I wasn’t aware of the strength of his career approval rating and the impressive margins that he often won reelection by. He genuinely seems like a politician that actually cares about helping people and serving his constituents.
Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg seem genuine in their initial desire to capture the disgraced former congressmen’s triumphant return to the political arena, but that narrative shifts significantly when a second sexting photo scandal breaks in the middle of his campaigning in the New York mayoral race. The derailing of the mayoral campaign shifts the tone of the documentary, and that’s when it becomes more of a character study of the man himself instead of the story of a political rebirth.
The most interesting part of this shift is that Weiner allows the film crew to continue filming. His mayoral run effectively over despite his inability to accept that truth, he doesn’t call the film off. He lets them continue to document the aftermath of yet another scandal and its effects not only on his campaign, but on his family life and his own psyche. The result paints a portrait of a complicated man. A man who in his work is enigmatic, driven, and inspiring, but who exercises an extreme lack of self-control. It sways frustratingly back and forth between eliciting sympathy for Weiner, his wife Huma, and the “what could have been” of his future political career, and a disheartened anger at a man who seems hell bent on being his own worst enemy.
When Kriegman asks Weiner “Why have you let me film this?” it’s a question that we all want an answer to. It is painfully entertaining to watch but what kind of prideful, self-delusional, arrogance, and need for attention informs the decision to continue to film your “come back”-documentary in the face of illicit sexual messaging scandal part duex? Providing the audience with an intimate view into political scandal and the nature of viral news stories as well as the role that the media plays, the film is a fascinating window to how scandal is precipitated in the modern age.
|Director:||Eli B. Despres & Josh Kriegman|
|Release Date:||May 20th, 2016 (select theaters)|