One of the most extraordinary, engaging and intriguing documentaries I have seen, I couldn’t seem to get enough of this erudite American politician who appears to be a slave to his sexual fantasies. Not surprisingly, Weiner claimed the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Anthony Weiner (born in Brooklyn, New York on September 4th, 1964) was a young congressman on the cusp of higher office when a sexting scandal forced a humiliating resignation. Just two years later, in 2013, he ran for mayor of New York City, betting that his ideas would trump his indiscretions. He was wrong.
Weiner, the movie, is a thrilling look inside a political comeback-turned-meltdown. What begins as an unexpected surge to the top of the polls takes a sharp turn once Weiner is forced to admit to new sexting allegations. As the media descends and dissects his every move, Weiner desperately tries to forge ahead, but the increasing pressure and crippling 24-hour news coverage halt his political aspirations. The film walks the line between political farce and personal tragedy. With the city of New York as a loud and bustling backdrop, this documentary charges through an increasingly baffling political campaign with unflinching clarity, humour and pathos.
Directors Josh Kriegman (who also shot and produced Weiner) and Elyse Steinberg (who wrote, produced and directed the documentary The Trial of Saddam Hussein) have done something very special here. With unprecedented access to the centerpiece of the doco, Kriegman was a political consultant and campaign advisor for local and US national candidates before turning to filmmaking. That included working with Weiner himself years before the Congressional sexting scandal that led to his resignation. So it was that Kriegman started filming on the first day of Weiner’s mayoral campaign and was there all the way through to the end. “No one had any idea how it was going to unfold or what would happen, but I knew it was going to be a pretty extraordinary event,” Kriegman says. And that it most certainly was.
A key player in what unfolds is Weiner’s wife, Huma, a confidante of Hilary Clinton, who “stood by her man” but was far more of a closed book. Instead, we – the audience – judge her based upon her facial expressions and body movement. The impression we gain of Anthony Weiner is that he has some important things to say that resonate with the public, but while being incredibly self-assured is also narcissistic and delusional.
He has remarkable drawing power. People, including the media, are besotted, absorbed in and, at the same time, appalling by him and his actions. In Steinberg’s case, she and Kriegman – who have been a directing team for four years – didn’t know Weiner before making this doco. She acknowledges she taken she was by this “complex, charismatic and funny” man. “He’s the kind of character every documentarian dreams of following,” she says.
Clearly it was Weiner’s openness and his comfort in front of camera, along with the lack of finger pointing in this documentary, that makes it such a compelling piece of work. It has to be seen to be believed and I am urging you to see it. Rated M, Weiner , which is out now on DVD and on-demand, scores an 8½ out of 10.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television