Weiner is a political documentary that can bring families together, build a bridge in the seemingly ever-widening partisan gulf. Do you have a gun-toting, Confederate flag-waving uncle, angry that Obama never celebrates his white heritage? And a hemp-wearing, lesbian, Hillary-supporting cousin with ‘☪☮℮✡☥☯✝’ tattooed across her forehead? Well, then pop a Weiner disc into the Blu-ray player, safe in the knowledge that these two diametrically opposed family members will enjoy the film in equal measure—though, probably for entirely different reasons.
It is likely that any two people of differing political persuasions will pinpoint a different moment that Anthony Weiner began to self-destruct. For some, it may be back when he was a congressman: the first time that Carlos Danger ever sent a text. For others, it may be when opportunistic porn star Sydney Leathers revealed that Weiner’s sexting continued after his Congressional resignation. Yet others, still on board during these various personal crises, may cite the truculent mien he adopted with a Jewish voter at a deli. Certainly the film portrays Weiner as a man who simply cannot get out of his own way. Or, as he puts it himself, ‘I have this virtually unlimited ability to fuck up things, day by day.’
Weiner is not a thesis documentary, in that the directors have an idea or make an argument, and assemble evidence in support of their assertions. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg take a hands-off, fly-on-the-wall approach to documentary filmmaking. There is no need to embellish the events during Weiner’s campaign because the man is perfectly, some might say inescapably, capable of manufacturing his own drama. The camera looks around, probing but never intruding, giving the audience a full and complete view of the meltdown of his campaign for mayorship of New York City.
There is one shot that basically defines the whole movie. Weiner has just given an interview on MS-NBC. Lawrence O’Donnell dug into him, in a pretty petty way, asking what psychological problems lead him to continue seeking public office. Weiner verbally fought back in a manner that made him look weak and childish. Here’s the shot: the next day, Weiner is watching the clip from the show at his computer; the monitor lights up his eyes, ablaze with pride and satisfaction. He really thinks he won the tussle. Standing right next to him is his wife, Huma Abedin, looking up at the ceiling in a weary, resigned disbelief.
Huma is the real enigma of Weiner, because as open as Weiner is with the camera, she never speaks on the record in the entire documentary. In every shot she seems reticent, controlled, politic—even when she’s completely alone with her husband and son. This makes a strong contrast with Weiner himself, who always seems to be preening at a photo op, and aggressively defensive, no matter how it looks. Kriegman and Steinberg never comment these dynamics (their style is fairly invisible throughout), which is wise; the slap-in-the-face clarity of them is so gripping that any stylistic flourishes would essentially be gilding the lily.
Now, back to your two hypothetical family members. It’s very likely they have their own strong ideas about Anthony Weiner. Doubtless, you do too. In all likelihood, Weiner will not change their or your mind about the man; but it will provide a spellbinding insight into how a politician can be his own sad, ceaseless albatross.