As we’ve seen in this absurd presidential election so far, what candidates do and say online matters as much (if not more) than what they actually do and say on the campaign trail. Disgraced Congressman and failed NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner learned that the hard way (and that’s the one and only joke like that I’ll make in this review).
By now, everyone knows at least part of the story: Anthony Weiner was a rising star in the Democratic Party, thanks to his charisma and New York-bred intensity in fighting for things like increased benefits for 9/11 first responders and healthcare for all. But he came crashing back to earth in 2011 when he accidentally tweeted a picture of his erection to several thousand followers, exposing a long list of virtual affairs.
After resigning from Congress amidst a flurry of jokes, Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin kept a low profile until he ran for mayor of New York City in 2013.
This documentary was originally supposed to chronicle Weiner’s attempts to overcome life as a punchline and get back into politics, to which he had devoted his entire adult life. And from his rousing speeches and appearances at various parades, it’s obvious he probably would have been a good mayor and legitimately had a shot. That is, until it all went to hell, which the cameras were there to document.
In 2013, more explicit messages leaked from a woman calling herself Sydney Leathers, who is so much of an attention seeker, she almost comes across as a parody. That torpedoed his campaign almost instantly, and put a strain on his already tense marriage to Abadin, one of the country’s top campaign strategists.
If Weiner had just been there for the rise and fall of a candidate, it would be one of the more interesting political documentaries of recent years. But it has the added benefit of being frequently hilarious, even if it doesn’t always intend to be. Anthony Weiner himself can often be brash and funny, but it’s fascinating to watch how genuinely dumbfounded he is that people only want to talk about his scandals and not his “63-point plan” to help New York City. And his campaign is simultaneously professional yet disorganized. His communications director Barbara Morgan always seems in crisis mode and one aide says, while downing a Jamba Juice and smoking a cigarette, “Oh shoot. I shouldn’t have told you that.”
But without editorializing, Weiner is also a strong indictment of the media and us as consumers of the media. Before 2011, Weiner was a rising star, but not a huge presence nationally. After the scandal broke, everyone knew his name and wanted to publicly shame him. But as Weiner reads in one editorial, his moral failure and deceit was wrong, but compared to other politicians, he’s pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to elected officials behaving badly.
Throughout it all, the most fascinating character is Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin. In scene after scene, you just see the hurt and regret on her face. The movie never judges her decision to stand by her man, even as some in the media explicitly do. It’s heartbreaking to see her hurt time and again. Both her marriage and political career are linked to a guy who just can’t control himself.
Ultimately, regardless of your political affiliation, or whether you think he deserves a second (or third) chance, Weiner is one of the most fascinating, thought-provoking movies of the year.