This spellbinder about a politician in free fall would be hilarious if it weren’t so agonizingly true. OK, it’s still pretty funny because Anthony Weiner — the subject of this documentary — can’t stop shooting himself in the foot. The film details the ins and outs of former U.S. Congressman Weiner’s ill-fated 2013 campaign to become mayor of New York. Directed by Elyse Steinberg and onetime Weiner chief of staff Josh Kreigman, the film affords us fly-on-the-wall access. A prologue sets the scene for those who don’t read the tabloids: In 2011, Weiner began sexting and tweeting pix of his Weiner wood in full salute. He denied the accusations, at first, but then offered a mea culpa, resigned, and slunk off in disgrace.
Jump ahead two years, and a chastened Weiner decides to run for mayor. There’s forgiveness in the air, from the public and from Weiner’s good wife, Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides. The couple are now parents of a toddler son. Enter Kreigman and Steinberg, ready to record the resurrection. Instead, they get another scandal. Weiner, this time under the name Carlos Danger, continued exting, and one of his correspondents, porn star wannabe Sydney Leathers, wasn’t going to be quiet about it.
You know the drill. Another scandal. An ignominious defeat at the polls. Luckily, there’s more than cheeseball muck-raking on this doc’s probing mind. In his private meetings and public speeches, Weiner shows an ability to grapple with real issues and win the support of many his young campaign volunteers. Even when his temper flares, as in a notorious TV interview with MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, we believe his indignation is righteous. But Weiner’s arrogance and self-delusion blindside him. As husband and wife watch the O’Donnell interview, Abddin looks stricken while Weiner cluelessly laughs.
Weiner the movie is an eye-opener, especially in this contentious election year. Can a politician display all his faults and contradictions without his career imploding? Apparently, Trump can; Weiner, who literally let it all hang out, not so much. The film asks why that happens without offering any satisfying answers. Hillary Clinton understandably dodges the issue, denying the public odious comparisons between Sydney Leathers and Monica Lewinsky. And yet the audience can’t help thinking of the increasing role sex plays in the voting process. Trump, currently taking media heat for his treatment of women, weighs in on Weiner in a news clip: “We don’t want perverts elected in New York City. No perverts!” Who do we want elected? And to what standards can we reasonably hold them? That Weiner tackles those questions at all makes this frisky doc a potent provocation and no small accomplishment.