Documenting the fall of New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner holds all the trumps.
The Ides of Marchby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
This fly-on-the-wall documentary about disgraced US Congressman and failed New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner starts with a caption quoting media theorist Marshall McLuhan – “The name of a man is a crushing blow from which he never recovers”. And this riveting film shows just how true this can be.
There was a kind of nominative determinism at work when the man whose surname is slang for penis tweeted pictures of his “bulging underwear”, as one TV commentator described it, to an unknown number of women and accidentally tweeted it to his 40,000 Twitter followers. Weiner’s oratory is combative, lively, colourful, and when calls came for him to resign from Congress after the sexting scandal, though he admitted in the end he sent the tweets, his answer, cut to tongue in cheek by filmmakers Josh Kriegman (who had previously worked for Weiner) and Elyse Steinberg, was “I’ll stick it out.” And then it’s followed by his resignation speech.
The film follows the frenetic final weeks of his increasingly doomed mayoral campaign. Weiner is, despite everything we know about him, endearingly honest. Yet equally, it seems, lacking in self-knowledge. It updates us on the background at the start with excellent use of news footage showing the sensational headines and amused and appalled reactions to his texting incident. Weiner himself is wiry, verbose, driven and shamelessly willing to use any means to further his campaign: his elderly mother joins his bank of phone canvassers. He wields a flag enthusiastically for any bandwagon, no matter whether it’s Gay Pride or an Ecuador or Colombia national day parade. But the biggest weapon in his arsenal is his well-connected, politically savvy wife Huma Abedin, formerly Hillary Clinton’s closest aide and deputy chief-of-staff, who quietly comes across in the film as a far more competent and electable candidate than her husband could ever be.
But scandal is never far away from Weiner and the film takes a new turn when new revelations break catastrophically midway in his mayoral campaign of even more sexually explicit texts to a publicity-seeking stripper in Las Vegas. It results in one of the funniest scenes where he has to dodge through a McDonald’s to get to his office to avoid being confronted by her and a TV crew. Huma publicly stands by him despite the indignity. But her body language is a picture and if looks could kill… Weiner has a blind spot, as he calls it, or a sexual addiction. Whatever it is, it manifests as – he eventually describes it – “an unlimited ability to fuck up”. He’s irrepressible, hyperactive, overarticulate and even funny at times, but what his motives are beyond his need for attention are not clear. As stated by him, they’re very socially conscious and popular in that respect – and it seems to be difficult for him to have nornal relationships, with people or the media. Why does Huma stay with him? Is it love or ambition? It’s a mystery.
As we know, Bill de Blasio won the election in 2014: Weiner’s share of the poll was – inevitably – disastrous. “Why did you let me film this?” Kriegman asks him from behind his camera at the end, as Weiner is at his nadir, and that’s the question you can’t help asking. The other being why is he letting it be shown? It’s like The Thick of It, but this is real. This brilliant, fast-moving, totally entertaining documentary’s huge achievement is to take a minor American political figure and make his life totally involving and thought-provoking to audiences outside America, and on the way create sympathy for a complex individual, make him more than a bizarre figure of fun, and give an insight into the political machine. Weiner doesn’t want to see it, but everyone else should.
Wiener premiered at Sundance London and is released on 8 July 2016 in the UK.