Joe Biden summed up the general opinion of the left when it was revealed that Anthony Weiner was somehow involved with the re-opening of the Clinton email scandal in the waning days of the never-ending 2016 US election with a muttered, resigned “oh god,” which I’m sure we can all mentally complete with a “not this guy again.” That feeling persists when confronted with Weiner the documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at his attempted comeback, running for Mayor of New York after a sexting scandal caused him to resign from US Congress. Weiner smartly opens with a highlight reel of Weiner the congressman, a loud, brash individual who visibly gave a damn. It gives us a good enough reason to root for his comeback, even though we know its for not. When the second scandal breaks, it breaks us for two reasons, both related to the fact that it doesn’t really say anything that wasn’t part of the first scandal aside from adding the name “Carlos Danger” to the mix. There’s a part of it that’s incredibly unfair to Weiner himself, and it also damns journalism and particularly comedy journalism for making big issues out of personal dramedy. As hilarious as the Weiner scandal is from an outside perspective, its much less humorous to Weiner and his wife/political superstar Huma Abedin. But it also is incredibly difficult to watch a recreation of a time just three years ago where a man’s political career was ended by salacious but consensual acts, while another man’s political career managed to survive after bragging about sexual assault. Weiner would be uncomfortable to watch were the political climate unchanged since 2013, but in a modern lens, its hard not to sympathize with Weiner’s situation as unfair, regardless of whether he deserved the second chance or not. It’s timely, but almost too timely, like cringe humour that goes a step too far. Weiner’s situation is too unfair to elicit schadenfreude, but Weiner himself is a bit too much of a weiner to be the posterboy for media suffering.
Weiner the documentary deserves credit for staunchly taking the viewpoint that the second sex scandal was unfair, but not necessarily coming down on an entirely pro-Weiner viewpoint. Weiner is directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the former of whom was an employee of Weiner-as-congressman, explaining the almost unbelievable access they had to the campaign; in one moment, Weiner asks everyone but Abedin to clear the room, but allows the camera to stay. While they include things like Weiner speaking with flair on New York issues, putting his competition to task on the issues, and waving a whole lot of flags, they also get access to things like Weiner watching footage of himself yelling in an interview with a shit-eating grin. In the best moment of the film, we get a behind-the-scenes look at an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell, which O’Donnell opens by pointedly asking Weiner “What’s wrong with you?” The directors cut back and forth between the broadcast footage and Weiner mic’d up and talking to O’Donnell over satellite, but visually talking to no one at all. While O’Donnell provoked Weiner’s outraged response, it’s framed as Weiner trying to justify himself to God, and it’s implied that just maybe he should try justifying it himself. He may not have been a useless political figure, but his well-intentioned narcissism brought him down time and time again. The film finds time to show him happy with his family, and does not bring up the recent third sexting scandal (for which Abedin did leave him). It paints the picture of someone who should have been given a second chance, but should have known to find a less public way to do it (a suggestion that Abedin run instead is glossed over), and couldn’t see past himself to see his defeat. Life is unfair, but instead of adapting, Weiner flamed out. It’s an interesting and open question exactly how much of that was deserved.
Directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman
Featuring Anthony Weine, Huma Abedin, and Sydney Leathers
Rotten Tomatoes (97%)