‘Weiner’ Review: It’s All in the Name


Movie Rating:


The best documentaries hinge on the filmmakers having incredible luck. As much as you can pick a subject worthy of shooting, you can’t guarantee that compelling drama will unfold. In ‘Weiner’, co-directors Josh Friegman and Elyse Steinberg hit the jackpot.

Following Anthony Weiner’s New York mayoral campaign in the wake of the world’s most famous Twitter dick pic would have been interesting no matter what. However, Friegman and Steinberg never guessed that a second scandal would emerge in front of their cameras as well. Toss in the fact that Weiner was a genuinely impassioned politician ruined by scandalous side games that encapsulate the pitfalls of the current outrage hungry media landscape and you’ve got a fascinating doc that feels very much like a movie of the moment. That the guy’s name is Weiner… well… sometimes truth is genuinely stranger than fiction, isn’t it? If you tried to write this story, it would seem contrived. Since it’s real, you get a contemporary tragedy that makes for compulsive viewing.

The documentary starts with the simple single-minded focus initially intended. We see Anthony Weiner’s hit YouTube video of moral outrage on the Senate floor that made him somewhat of a media darling, followed swiftly by the infamous Twitter photo and the headlines and late night monologues that followed. Then we meet Weiner in 2013, ready to put the past behind him and run for Mayor of New York City on his policies and personality rather than tabloid fame. There’s enthusiasm among his team, support from his wife Huma Abedin, and a general sense of rising from the ashes for triumph. While the guy has to answer some awkward questions from interviewers when he kicks off the campaign, it feels like he just might be able to put the past behind him. Then the past comes back with a vengeance

If you had a television and/or internet access in 2013, you know what happened next. A classily named website known as The Dirty reveals that under the name Carlos Danger, Weiner had been sexting a fresh crop of dirty talk and dirtier photos to a 22-year-old woman within that very year. Suddenly, everything changes. Weiner admits his faults and attempts to march forward, but it’s impossible. The scandal is all anyone wants to talk about.

What’s fascinating about Friegman and Steinberg’s doc is the way we’re able to see the human cost of such tabloid entertainment. All the moments you might remember from that media clusterfuck appear: the raging CNN appearance, Howard Stern’s interview with the young woman, talk show gags, and a screaming match in a bagel shop. Then the documentarians’ cameras probe further, following Anthony Weiner from scandal to political appearances with candid honesty. It’s a bit like ‘Veep’ or a particularly humiliating episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, only painfully real.

That Weiner not only marched on, but allowed the documentary to continue is a combination of admirable integrity and embarrassing exhibitionism. Knowing the man purely from his media appearances and his public shames, it’s safe to say that he’s a bit of an attention whore, but he’s also a person. There’s an incredible cost to living between those comedic viral video career highlights that’s difficult to imagine when sucking up a story from one click bait video to the next. The strain on his marriage is painful and openly displayed. His struggle to put on a brave face shows cracks. His team of support struggles to maintain their faith. It’s tough stuff and the saddest part is that the guy actually cares about the political office that he’s running for and has the right attitude to overcome adversity. Watching Weiner actually win over a crowd at a rally late in the film is both inspiring and painful. He does it because he means what he says and has the intellectual fortitude to back up the soundbytes. At the same time, it’s fruitless. The media already dictated his fate and there’s nothing he can do.

Anthony Weiner emerges as a tragic figure over the course of this hilarious, thought provoking, skin-crawlingly cringey, and rather brilliant documentary. His on-camera talents and political positions are strong, but that same obsession with rallying crowds and performing for the camera led directly to his private downfall thanks to the broadcasting machine that he carries in his pocket (next to the part of his anatomy responsible for all of his worst decisions, no less).

The way that Friegman and Steinberg follow and probe their subject without ever exploiting him is a tricky balancing act that the filmmakers pull off well. It helps that Weiner clearly just loves being on camera. While most would have shut this thing down, he trudged on knowing that it would reveal a behind-the-scenes truth that would ultimately be worth the day-to-day pain of enduring a trainwreck campaign and public humiliation with cameras in his face even during downtime. Ultimately, the doc humanizes the walking punchline and shows that he’s a strong politician, even if he’s a weak man. That’s potent stuff and a fascinating portrait of the contemporary political landscape that only seems to get stranger and merge more deeply into show business with every election.

This movie must be a harrowingly difficult viewing experience for Anthony Weiner and his family. For everyone else, it’s one of the most compulsively entertaining and fascinating films of the year, documentary or otherwise.

1 comment

  1. Dexter Young

    Good review. The whole thing had the feel of the British Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm made real. The cringe factor is almost too painful.

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