Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary begins back in 2011. Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-New York) rises in the U.S. House to eviscerate his Republican colleagues for voting against special funding for medical care for 9-11 emergency responders.
Weiner is on fire. Scrappy, combative, mocking the GOPers for their shameful practice of voting not with their consciences but for political ends. It’s a hell of a performance. Makes you proud to be a liberal.
Of course the glow doesn’t last. Within months Weiner was caught up in a sexting scandal, having tweeted sexual photos to a woman not his wife.
At first he lied about it. Then he came clean. Then he resigned.
Most pols in that situation would pack it in. How do you resume a political career when you’re the punchline of a joke?
But Weiner didn’t give in. He threw himself into the 2013 New York mayoral race, which is where filmmakers Kriegman and Sternberg got on board. Weiner seems to have granted them unlimited access; rarely has a political campaign been documented with such warts-and-all total coverage.
And for a while it looks as if Weiner is going to put the scandal behind him. He’s the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. His pull-no-punches liberal combativeness and dedication to solving economic issues of the dwindling middle class are gobbled up by the voters (at times he seems like a mini-Bernie).
He leads NYC’s gay pride parade, waving a huge rainbow flag like Lady Liberty at the barricades. He hits the retirement homes.
“I have successfully whistled past the graveyard,” Weiner says of his political resurrection.
Until…until a second series of even more explicit self-portraits hit the Internet.
Which raises the obvious question: How can a guy who is so good at politics be so stupid?
Slowed but not stopped, Weiner throws himself into once again salvaging his reputation. But this time it’s a lost cause.
“Weiner” is not just about the failed politician. It’s also about his wife, Huma Abedin, a publicity-shy political operative (she’s a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton) who must decide if she’s going to continue to stand by her man.
It becomes pretty clear that the documentary we’re watching is all Anthony’s idea, that it serves his boundless narcissism, and that Abedin is struggling mightily to remain the good wife in a humiliating situation.
(In one intensely personal moment between husband and wife, Weiner asks his aides to clear the room but pointedly allows the documentary film crew to keep on shooting.)
If Abedin comes off as a borderline saint, her husband leaves us shaking our heads in disbelief and frustration. Anthony Weiner’s got the right ideas, politically speaking, and he can be a disarmingly funny and entertaining orator. He’s gotten really good at self-deprecation.
But as a person, he leaves the impression that something essential is missing. He wants so much to be in the political fray that every other human need and obligation takes a back seat.
In the last moments of this documentary, filmmaker Kriegman asks Weiner: “Why did you let us film you?”
All Weiner can do is give a helpless shrug. He hasn’t got — or can’t face — the answer.