Almost matching my love for documentaries about film, the political documentary is a type of movie that always gets me immediately intrigued and when you add scandal to that, well, you’ve got me hook line and sinker. My immediate jumping off point is Michael Moore’s films, especially Fahrenheit 9/11 and Slacker Uprising, but I can see his films being a bit too biased for most audiences to get behind. Since I first got my eyeballs on the first mentioned Moore film, I found myself delving into the works of Errol Morris, who directed The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara and most recently the Donald Rumsfeld centric The Unknown Known and Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. These kinds of films fire me up, get interesting conversation going and give me endless information to hash out. Now, first-time feature makers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg delve into the story of a New York politician who has largely just been the butt of jokes, mostly due to the close proximity of his name to his scandal, in the film Weiner.
It’s safe to say that I had a limited knowledge of Anthony Weiner, besides bits that I saw on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and clips of Bill Maher and all of this, mind you, was during the scandal. I knew nothing about his background, what kind of a Democratic congressman he was and what his ideas were. I also didn’t know who his wife was and what circles of power and influence that she ran in, which is pretty pertinent to what is going on in American politics right now. All I knew was that his name is Anthony Weiner and he basically got caught stupidly tweeting dick pics to a supporter on Twitter, solidifying the prophecy of being doomed by your own name, something the film directly says in the beginning of the film through a quote from Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian professor and philosopher. This movie would prove to be very educational.
Starting out, the look of Anthony Weiner isn’t too flattering. Frazzled and swearing as he tries to make a call on his cell phone, he muses about the low moments one would have to be at to make a film on his own scandal. What follows, through the opening credits, is a fast education on the whole Anthony Weiner story up until he became the subject of this documentary. He is a fighting democrat who called out Republicans on their greedy and heartless decisions with an admirable ferocity. He’s also married to Huma Abedin, the longtime aide to Hillary Clinton and now her vice chairwoman for the current campaign for the presidency. When the scandal broke, Weiner vehemently denied being the picture taker, refusing to step down from his position. He eventually admitted to taking the pictures but continued to stay on until finally resigning in 2011.
The reason we fast forward through that is because this film is about what starts two years after that in 2013, when Anthony Weiner boldly re-emerges, this time, announcing that he’s running for mayor of New York. Hoping to try and put the scandal behind him, Weiner makes this announcement with his wife by his side, who even makes a statement on his behalf. With her being a more focal point, the city of New York explodes with talk and the internet response being even louder, including a pretty hilarious Vine video from Presidential candidate villain Donald Trump. Anthony Weiner, against all of this, uses his smart ideas and tenacity to make quite a campaign for himself, which could be successful only if he avoids the trappings that brought him down in the first place.
This documentary is absolutely riveting from the first moment after the credits simply by how close we are to the subject. Every single moment is covered as he announces his intentions to the city and then conducts a series of painful phone interviews, being asked the same things about the scandal over and over. It’s painful and becomes very clear that the media is not so lenient on giving Anthony Weiner a second chance but, in his eyes, this does not deter him as these people aren’t the ones that will line up at voting booths. There’s grit and determination to him and the camera picks it all up.
This is also where all the brutality of the situation is, especially when it comes to Anthony’s wife, Huma. The media, at first, says that the entire campaign depends on her alignment with her husband and then other outlets start to refer to her as a hostage in her situation, held in her role of support against her will. Having dealt with the scandal within their marriage, the most adverse reaction we start to see out of her is when Weiner can’t seem to control his level of confrontation, no matter if he’s in the wrong or not. There’s one scene in particular what he’s ambushed on an MSNBC show with host Lawrence O’Donnell where he starts the interview with a flat out “What’s wrong with you?” How is Anthony Weiner supposed to reply to that? I may have reacted the same.
Documentaries like Weiner are such great watches just for the sheer fact of dispelling media biases. While all coverage loves to paint all the sensationalism, a film this close and in depth with the main subject serves to show you how real these people are and how large their problems are in the grand scheme of things. Do I think Anthony Weiner is a bad politician? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I think he is a progressive thinker with great ideas and an unstoppable drive. What he does suffer from is impulse control issues but there are far more in government with worse issues. If only they were so open to having a documentary to tell their story, right? I give Weiner a five out of five.