When filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg began their fly-on-the-wall documentary, Weiner, the scandals revolving around former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner were behind him. The revealing selfies, the sext messages and whatever else he may have sent on-line that derailed his political career was now a two year-old story. “I guess the punch-line is true,” Anthony Weiner states to the camera. “I did a lot of things.”
By the time the film crew began their work, the 2013 New York mayoral race was already in place. And so was Anthony Weiner. “I hope to get a second chance to work for you,” stated an ad after he declared he would be running. When it came to Weiner, in keeping with its all-inclusive, never-ending, pun-heavy headlines, NYC’s Daily News declared: He’s Got Some Balls!
“He’s always been a good fighter for the people,” states a female commentator, and during those early moments of the documentary, we can see that. From the examples given, the democratic congressman was a passionate politician. He fought hard, never backed down, was always prepared to raise his voice and give full commitment to whatever he was defending. More often than not, the crowds were on his side. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” chanted supporters.
But then it happens, again. Exactly at what point things were committed is cloudy – the documentary never quite clarifies the timing – but more damaging pictures emerge, more sext messages are revealed, and Anthony Weiner’s desire for that second chance spiral wildly out of control. “Newly revealed pictures are by far the most explosive we’ve seen,” declares a TV reporter.
With a continuous flow of jokes on late night TV, more puns-as-headlines on the front pages of the tabloids, plus clips of Bill Maher and Jane Lynch reading those sex text messages to ‘Lisa’ on HBO, Anthony Weiner’s ascension ceased. At a press conference with just six weeks to go in the race, we see Weiner trying to get his political message across with requests that all following questions be on-topic. Silence from the crowd. When someone finally asks if they can refer to something off-topic, Weiner reluctantly agrees, and the crowd suddenly becomes vocal.
“How do you feel today?” asks the documentarian as he follows Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin around the kitchen. “It’s like having a nightmare,” she replies as she goes about her business, possessing the look of someone who wished the camera would just go away. And when the filmmaker asks something similar to Weiner, the former congressman admonishes the camera, telling the filmmaker he’s supposed to be making a fly-on-the-wall documentary and that flies-on-the-wall don’t talk.
There may be those outside of New York whose interest in politics is virtually nil and that the Anthony Weiner scandals were never on their radar, but for those whose interest is more than just a headline, Steinberg and Kriegman’s documentary is a gripping feature, one that never loses its energy.
Determined to see the mayoral race to the end, Weiner charges full steam ahead while everything around him falls apart. Your reaction to the man who served New York’s 9th congressional district will no doubt depend on your personal thoughts, position and beliefs. As a Republican supporter, the film and what Anthony Weiner did is a comedian’s punch line. As a Democrat, for someone with so much promise, he’s a major disappointment. If you had an issue and needed a Pit Bull on your side, Anthony Weiner was your representative. “I knew instantly it was pretty bad,” Weiner tells the camera.
So, how is it that he derailed his career so spectacularly? And why? It’s a question that’s never answered. Neither is another fascinating question. When, near the conclusion of the documentary, filmmaker Kriegman asks, “Why have you let me film this?” Weiner has nothing to say. He shrugs. He really doesn’t know.
Like an accident at the side of the road, you should turn away, but can’t. The film possesses a magnetic pull; it’s way too compelling a subject to look in the other direction. With surprising and somewhat eye-raising access to everything that occurred behind the scenes – filmmaker Kriegman was a former aide to the congressman – Weiner is a genuinely fascinating watch. And, sadly, it’s also very entertaining.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 96 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)