DIFF Review: Weiner

Score: A-

Director: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Cast: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Barbara Morgan, Sydney Leathers

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rated: NR

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.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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