A documentary about the infamously disgraced U.S Congressman seemed like a great idea. Now Anthony Weiner finds himself in hot water after a scandal is brought to light. The film follows Anthony and his wife Huma Abedin, beginning with his time in Congress and his 2011 resignation after photos of his bulging underwear appeared on Twitter. The bulk of the film is about his 2013 campaign for Mayor of New York City. At first his campaign is going well, with many New Yorkers willing to give him a second chance as reflected in polls putting him at or near the top of a crowded field. Then additional examples of his online sexual activity surface, including explicit text conversations with women that occurred well after his resignation from Congress. The mood of the campaign switches from exuberance to pain. Intimate views are captured of Weiner, his wife and his campaign staff struggling with the new revelations and the media firestorm that ensues. In only a couple of instances is the camera asked to leave the room. The result is a compelling portrait of a man, a woman and a political campaign in crisis. “Weiner” is written and directed by the duo of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, and is rated R for adult language and sexual material.
“Weiner” is an insider look at the very pressures of a promising candidate and what kind of price has to be paid when said candidate’s dirt comes to light. Kriegman and Steinberg keep the cameras running during some heavily troubling times for Anthony when one scandal after another breaks, and are wise enough to step back and let the story write itself. The fact that there is zero narration or directional storytelling here, speaks volumes to the stigma that there’s no story more compelling than real life. What’s truly marvelous here is that there really are no heroes in the game of politics. Every character that weaves in and out of this story, from the nasty high-pressured press to the Weiner family themselves, everyone garnered some kind of negative reaction from me. This is a troubling PERSONAL time in a young man’s life, and it took everyone he knew and loved down with him. There’s nothing more harmful to a politician than when they’re caught in a lie, and the scandals in “Weiner” are perhaps among the most polarizing to a campaign in modern history.
Two things to me always make for the most insightful of documentary experiences: A real life unexpected event that is unfolding before the viewer’s very eyes and the even accuracy told from both points that gives an equal opportunity to find your own views on the subject. On the latter, nothing here feels one-sided or leading to the audience at home, and because of that I felt myself feeling very trusting in the kind of documentation that this duo were presenting in front of my very eyes. The main protagonist (If you can call him that) makes a lot of mistakes in his campaign to be president, and I really found myself at times agreeing with the same hateful public that shunned him. When the documentary started, I wanted to believe that Weiner’s scandal wasn’t that big of a deal as long as his politics were great. Boy was I wrong. On the former, this picture has great timing to always be in the right place at the right time. It’s almost unbelievable how well paced the timing is of this team, but it certainly is a credit to their work and desire to tell an accurate story; the very downfall of a once promising figure who had a couple really bad days. The price for fame isn’t always a positive one. Sometimes it comes with a tag that will change the life of that person forever. If I had one problem with the presentation of this documentary, it would be in the sound mixing/editing. With some poor long range microphones, it’s very difficult to pick up what a couple of strangers on the street said to Weiner in passing by. Subtitles would’ve made this problem non-existent, but because there are none in the movie, this required a couple of rewinds in my copy of the film, that really interrupted the flow of such a well paced dramedy of Shakespearian proportions.
The tone is one of great dark humor and borderline satire because of how ridiculous the material is for someone who is fighting for our personal freedoms. There’s certainly an air of irony when someone who should know better doesn’t, and that feeling resonates throughout the entirety of this 96 minute film. Capped off by a subtly appropriate musical score by composer Jeff Beal, a man well versed in the scoring of documentaries after his musical accompany in 2014’s “Blackfish”. Here Jeff plays next to the very unfolding nightmare that plagues Weiner. Never so much as to overstay his welcome, Beal offers soft tones that blend well to the humor playing out. Some of my favorite scenes with the music are ones of reflection with Weiner. This can be seen several times when he is either asked a question by the camera person or offered a moment to reflect in the very damaging ways that he hurt his own campaign.
From start to finish, we really see so much air removed from the sails of this promising political figure, and that goes even further when you see the destruction of this public eye family. Weiner’s wife Huma is certainly given her own metaphorical fork in the road, when she is given an ultimatum by her own political party midway through the film. Slowly, you start to see that trust that she has for her husband start to dissipate, and it left me feeling worried for the very foundation of this family, considering I know very little of their current day status. A political campaign can be salvaged and live to fight another day a couple years down the line, but the well-being of this family is where I found myself most concerned within this world, and never once did it disappoint in adding another layer before a big climax that focused on the final day of the election for New York City mayor. Weiner himself feels like two different people from start to finish. Early on, I felt myself charmed by his imposing demeanor to take on the issues that others weren’t passionate enough to face, but by the end of the movie it was a whole different story. I found several things to fuel the fire for my distrust of this man, and in that two-way sense, it feels very much like every politician you come across. You always wait for the other shoe to drop with these guys, and drop it does hard in this picture.
Overall, “Weiner” is a vote for real-life drama that unfolds at fast-flowing levels downhill, like lava that its characters just can’t run from. Elevated by sharp insightful editing, as well as the message of cautionary treading, “Weiner”, like the character in question, is a train-wreck that you simply can’t look away from. It’s a political thriller too amusing to be a television show, but too educational not to be recorded.