REVIEW: Weiner

25 05 2016

WeinerSundance Film Festival

Political scandal and gaffe culture may be reaching its zenith in the Trump era, as each successive ridiculous statement fuels news cycle after news cycle. News media no doubt sees it as a boon since it allows non-stop talking head commentary masquerading as legitimate analysis.

Need a break from it all? Dive head-first into Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s “Weiner,” an blow-by-blow chronicle of former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s failed New York City mayoral bid in 2013. For whatever reason (most likely hubris), Weiner and wife Huma Abedin allowed documentarians to film this politically perilous campaign. You know, in case the public spotlight following his sexting scandal and subsequent resignation was not going to be strongly trained enough on their family. What’s another camera?

The filmmakers catch plenty of what made Weiner a rising star in the Democratic Party. He’s an undeniably dedicated public servant with a really dynamic, no-holds-barred approach to fighting for his beliefs. But that also comes with a dark flip side of self-righteousness that leads to self-destructive impulses, such as sending lewd pictures of his genitals over the Internet to women that were not his wife.

Both waters seem to flow from the same spring of his fiery personality, which makes his charisma a strength until it becomes a liability. One scene, seen from offstage of a sound set where Weiner joins into a cable news program, gives us the perspective that he just screams at no one. Intercut with the actual interview, it provides a stark example of how context and perspective define our distinctions of “crazy” and “passionate,” or “hubristic” and “idealistic.”

huma-abedin-anthony-weiner-02

Weiner had a position of power to fall from in 2011 because he was an intellectual leader on the issues. But fast forward two years, and all the press cares to cover is personality flaws and discretion – despite the fact that Weiner runs an issues-oriented campaign. Hard as his communications staff might try, they can never turn the message around, and especially not when allegations arise that Weiner continued sexting AFTER his resignation.

The disappointment is thus twofold in “Weiner.” First, that the man himself destroys the good-will of an abnormally forgiving public with his pathological behavior. Second, that the media circles his every move like a pack of vultures, awaiting another misstep and refusing to cover anything substantive or policy-related. Watching from a vantage point of 2016, this episode out of 2013 feels like a dire presage of what was to come.

Kriegman and Steinberg expose Weiner pretty thoroughly, getting to the core of the impetuous and impulsive core of his very being. Who they can never quite get a handle on, however, is Huma Abedin. And that’s not a sign of failure on the part of the documentary in any way. It’s a sign of just how fascinating a person Abedin is.

Alongside “Weiner,” there might as well be a parallel film running called “Huma.” She feels just as much the subject as him, even though holds the screen in a manner most befitting Charlie Chaplin. Kriegman and Steinberg frequently cut over to her face on the sideline of her husband’s event, observing her resolute poker face. There are few talking heads in the film, in part because moments such as these say more than any outside observer ever could.

Abedin has made herself invaluable to the Clintons, Hillary in particular, yet has saddled her political fortunes to a trainwreck of a husband. Just how she ended up here is a question everyone ought to ask, in part because it seems like Abedin is asking it herself in the many moments of silent suffering that the camera picks up. A-3halfstars

*A portion of the final paragraphs ran as a part of a capsule review I wrote for Movie Mezzanine after the Sundance Film Festival.

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One response

27 05 2016
Matt

I am often frustrated by documentaries that lack focus and aren’t clear what story they want to be telling. From your review, it doesn’t sound at all like this documentary has that problem. It sounds very focused and very interesting.

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