Weiner (2016) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexual material
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Sydney Leathers
Director: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Screenplay: Josh Kriegman, Eli B. Despres, Elyse Steinberg
Review published August 17, 2016
Weiner is a behind-the-scenes documentary covering the publicly disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner and his bid for mayor of New York City in 2013. Carrying a great deal of baggage going in, Weiner manages to gain some traction by claiming that his indiscretions, which had to do with multiple instances of sexting, exchange of nude photographs, and phone sex with several women admirers he had been in contact with but reportedly had never met, were a thing of the past. As he becomes the frontrunner in the race, new information regarding the allegations arise, resulting in additional scandal and subsequent damage control on the part of the campaign to address the salacious details, as well as the trust issues that emerge due to Weiner's inability to handle the deluge of personal questions that he hopes will blow over, but only causes the campaign to control the damage only causes his bid to spin even further put of control.
What's special about Weiner, as a documentary, isn't that it covers Weiner and his scandals, but that it offers an unprecedented peek into the campaign and its implosion with the candidate's full blessing and cooperation through the worst of it (he even agreed to additional interviews to be used in the film after the election), and even as they discuss all of the various ways they are going to spin whatever new damaging information into his favor as it comes forward. It had originally been meant to show the comeback to victory for Weiner, but instead, showed that one can't make a comeback without first making a fundamental change to improve oneself in the process. It's also a story that the press loves to cover -- sex, lies and photographic proof (with an emphasis on 'graphic'), which propels the ratings and circulation of the news sources covering the piece, but also obliterates the less sexy things that they dislike covering, namely, the issues the candidates are running on that will actually affect the people they purport to serve.
Few comes out of the piece looking very good, though one immediately sympathizes with Weiner's power-player wife, Huma Abedine, and his own immediate campaign staff, who are put into unenviable positions to defend something they have no personal involvement in. Not Weiner, of course, whose hubris and half-hearted denials make him look like a weak-willed and deeply egotistical person, even if his working-class causes are something many voters of New York passionately believe in. Definitely not the press, who seem to only care about the more prurient matter at hand, often times asking questions loaded with a malicious bent. Perhaps the worst out of all of it is one of the so-called victims of Weiner's lechery in his second major scandal, Sydney Leathers, a woman living in Las Vegas with whom Weiner reportedly had sexual dialogue several times a day a year after he resigned from office (under the pseudonym of 'Carlos Danger'), who exuberantly milks her newfound attention for publicity, money, and an entryway into the porn industry. If there's anyone in the film that causes Weiner to look at all sympathetic, which would seem impossible given his callous disregard for so many who believed in him, it's the appearance of opportunism that fuels her desire to do him additional public harm.
Directed by relative newcomers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, Weiner is kind of film you wish didn't exist, and yet you're thankful of it in documenting fundamental truths about politics, especially the immense egos and narcissistic notions that would drive someone to seek public office. While the coverage Weiner would receive would end up resulting in a full eclipse of who he is as a candidate, and as a person, other than the congressman who sent photos apropos of his name, the surprisingly intimate film says so much more about him than any of his speeches ever could, some admirable, some deplorable. While it isn't an incisive documentary that manages to tie in with larger themes that it could have so easily tapped into to make it truly resonant, it remains, as is, immensely thought-provoking. It is, at times, difficult to watch, yet impossible to divert your attention away from, much like a train-wreck that is a perfect metaphor for Weiner's attempt to re-emerge as a changed man who so very clearly hadn't the time or inclination to come to terms with his own impulsive addictions or delusions of self-control.
©2016 Vince Leo