Movie review by Greg Carlson
Winner of the grand jury prize for best documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s “Weiner” is one of 2016’s must-see features. Following the unbelievable NYC mayoral campaign of disgraced politician Anthony D. Weiner from the inside, Kriegman and Steinberg’s movie boasts a compelling up-close-and-personal take on high stakes elections and higher risk narcissism. Granted incredible all-access passes to Weiner’s life – Kriegman was a former Weiner aide and the filmmakers agreed to give Weiner’s camp footage at points throughout the race – the directors, along with their sharp editor Eli Despres, stitch together a wild snapshot of a man in flames.
Although the movie never breaks down in any kind of precise detail the number of “relationships” the married Weiner cultivated with women via text/sext, email, and social media, a deep well of cable news clips and quips from comics like Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher paint the picture of Weiner as an arrogant, libidinous adulterer jeopardizing everything that is good in his otherwise charmed life in exchange for the fleeting thrill of a new chat or picture. In one revealing sequence accompanied by motion graphics of a private message exchange, Weiner explains the progression of his online behaviors.
If the salacious and lurid partnership of sex and politics weren’t enough to pique interest, Weiner’s suffering spouse, Huma Abedin – a close friend to Hilary Clinton who served as deputy chief of staff from 2009 to 2013 while Clinton was Secretary of State – defies logic to also appear in the film. While Weiner has since claimed that the filmmakers did not, in fact, secure a release to include Abedin in the movie, her presence is essential to the strange success of the documentary. Calm and collected while her husband presents his combative “caged mongoose” (credit for that apt description to Mark Leibovich) persona, the mysteries of the opposites attract angle stoke the drama.
Filled with one brain-melting scene after another, “Weiner” reaches a fever pitch during a stop at a Brooklyn bakery. Following weeks of getting hammered by the press – and a decision to no longer remain in a “defensive crouch” – Weiner goes toe to toe with a loudmouth bully while the cameras have a field day. Once again, it seems like Weiner has blown it. But the microphone picks up Weiner’s antagonist disparaging the ethnicity of Abedin and the next thing you know, Jon Stewart is sympathizing with the perpetually ludicrous Weiner.
In a “Times” piece by Michael M. Grynbaum, Steinberg perfectly summarizes the appeal of Weiner as a subject: the “intense self-awareness, real insight and then complete blindness” that likens him to a tragic figure from Shakespeare. The nonstop fusillade of dick jokes and penis puns adorning the covers of the “New York Post” throughout the scandal (samples: “Beat It!,” “Weiner Exposed,” “I’ll Stick It Out”) casts the man as a royal fool. Less than one month ago, Weiner and Abedin announced a separation after yet another round of extramarital communications surfaced. Donald Trump, who has donated to Weiner multiple times in the past, used the occasion to suggest that “sleazeball and pervert” Weiner’s proximity to Clinton confidante Abedin could jeopardize national security.