A testament to the fallibility of man, Weiner documents the rise, then fall, of Anthony Weiner’s 2015 mayoral campaign with close attention to Weiner the man and not the “punchline”, as much as we may grow to hate him.
Weiner opens with a video from before Weiner’s disgrace as a Congressman, where he desperately fights against Republicans who don’t want to give money for medical attention to 9/11 responders. It segues into a series of interviews with passersby and plugs from television where people describe Weiner as a man of the people, someone directly from Brooklyn who is a true New Yorker that fights for his constituents and others, someone who never backs down.
At some point in his mayoral race people began to wish he would. Huma Abedin, his wife, is a bleak portrait of inner conflict and humiliation throughout the documentary, realizing as time wears on and more scandal emerges that she cannot disentangle herself from the mess her husband has created. Watching her become more and more tightly wound as her husband unravels on television, in the streets- at one point he starts a shouting match in a bakery with someone who mentioned he’d “married an Arab”- is heartbreaking, even among the incredible ridicule both served and taken by Weiner throughout the film.
It reads like a classic underdog story at first, with sweeping montages of his popularity at various parades, contrasted with a lack of enthusiasm for current mayor and the ultimate winner of that race, Bill DiBlasio. DiBlasio, currently not popular with New York City voters, managed to emerge on top through mainly being less controversial than a figure like Weiner. It is crushing to watch Weiner’s race crumble, seeing his ideals get swept away in the cloud of his scandal. For a moment in the film, even knowing recent history, it seems like Weiner is going to win- which makes it all the more distressing when people start to lash out at him for lying to the public. At one point, a woman seeing the commotion as he’s barraged with questions, a lone defender, angrily shouts at the reporters themselves: “Don’t ask him about that! Ask him about his policies, we’re from the Bronx! We don’t care about this!”
Weiner’s unfortunate name really should have precluded him from a scandal like this, but as we hear the members of his campaign staff frantically try to find a way around “Pineapple”, the code name for the girl who brought his indiscretions into the spotlight, as Weiner heads to make his concession speech after the Democratic primary, it becomes clear that this is not a fault of circumstance. Weiner was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. Weiner, for all his pushing around his son in a carriage and blustering about protecting the middle class, is a man who caused the first real sexting scandal. In a world with technology so pervasive in everyday life, it is no wonder when Huma, watching her husband at the computer playing back an interview in which he essentially blew up, pleads: “Why are you laughing?”
Who wouldn’t laugh? The movie’s funny, and that’s what makes it hurt so much. It is poignant because it is so ridiculous, because the thought of someone ruining their own career with naked photos, a Congressman no less with a wife who works for one of the most powerful women in the world, is so alien that you have to laugh just to ease the tension. And the laughs are there, inevitable in the way Weiner speaks and fights. He’s a New Yorker, that’s for sure. If he could’ve just kept it in his pants.
Speaking to one of the directors, Josh Kriegman, before the show, it became clear that this was not going to be the farce one expects.
Do you feel like situations like this, especially given the state of the 2016 presidential campaigns right now, speak to a growing trend of ridiculous politics?
We wanted to speak to more than just Anthony’s story, one New York City mayor’s race, and as you’re describing, how much the spectacle of all of it has become and how much the political conversation has been driven by entertainment and sensationalism and just an appetite for spectacle. So sure, that’s part of what we were hoping people glean from our film, and we were hoping that we could become part of that conversation.
What brought you to the project?
I was his chief staffer for a couple of years and that’s how I know him. Years later, after he resigned from Congress, he and I started a conversation about making a documentary and when he ran for mayor he agreed to let us film the race.
How does Weiner feel about this?
I don’t know. He hasn’t seen the film yet. We offered to show it to him many months ago, actually before it was even completely finished. He hasn’t wanted to see it, he says he hasn’t wanted to relive it. We of course respect that. We hope that at one point he’ll see it and we hope he likes it.
It is a compelling microcosm of a couple, as Abedin and Weiner share the stage in this more than anything, even when she stops appearing at his campaign stops for fear of her career with now presidential candidate Hillary Clinton being jeopardized. Weiner does not attempt to make any sort of case, but watching the documentary gives a glimpse into a city betrayed, as well as a man who thought he could separate the personal and political, and learned all too late how glaringly wrong he was.
We screened the film at a special premiere at The Roxy Hotel hosted by Dan Abrams, Contessa Brewer, Chris Hayes, Hendrik Hertzberg, Gay Talese & Alex Witt.
In theaters May 20th and on VOD May 26th