A solid and hilarious take on the political world, Weiner is a great example of when documentaries can be as fun as they are informative.
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s award winning documentary, Weiner, follows the controversial Anthony Weiner as he runs for mayor of New York – releasing his side of the story on the notorious sexting scandal (or should I say, scandals) that define his political career. With a name that screams innuendo and a penchant for saucy pics, Anthony Weiner is the perfect tool for a hilariously on-beat comedy; more of a caricature of a real man than anything else. Kriegman and Steinberg flawlessly highlight his highs and his lows, and edit seamlessly between the sombre conflictions and sassy snap-backs of this man on the edge. Witty, fun, and painfully sharp – Weiner is one of those documentaries where you don’t even realise you’re learning, as you’re just having too much fun.
Beginning with a recap of his disastrous resignation as democratic congressman, we learn of Anthony Weiner’s imperfect nature from the outset. He has made mistakes and owned up to them – after a lot of wriggling to try and escape the public light of his ‘bulge picture’ that was accidentally sent into the public sphere. Devastating his career, public image, and marriage to the weary Huma Abedin (Hilary Clinton’s adviser) with his string of internet picture-swapping, the film takes a dual focus on the mayoral campaign and Weiner’s strained relationship. Bringing Abedin out into the limelight for the first time – many were interested to see her political stance and personal opinions on both her husband and his proposed policies; making for an interesting power play throughout the documentary.
The majority of the film is spent questioning whether one mistake (or a slew of them) defines a person and their actions from that moment onwards. People in the street declare outright damnation to the man for cheating on his wife, lying to his loyal voters, and generally royally messing up with pictures of his junk. Others just want a strong mayor who will treat them well and right, and couldn’t care less about what goes on in his personal life. Weiner has to wrangle a positive out of both these parties; and his success is measured percentage by percentage – putting more pressure on his relationships with Abedin and his young son. The directors bring us an intelligent insight of the cause and effect for every conversation and reaction – and Weiner is known for his big mouth.
Raucously funny and championing an alarmingly charismatic man at its forefront (especially when taking into account his problematic actions), it’s the sort of film that will suck you in from the outset. Everyone loves a scandal, and the directors recognise this – revolving their epiphanies and footage around ‘what will come out next.’ The constant tension of Weiner’s past and Huma’s waning patience, undercut by a barrage of wonderfully dry humour creates an interesting dynamic; one that is likely to be as divisive as the titular man himself. Should Huma have forgiven him? Does she deserve to be put through political humiliation once more? Will Anthony do it again? One of the most well interjected subplots comes from footage sourced around one of Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners – a woman who is desperate for fame and will do anything for the camera’s attention. Her increasing involvement as the film progresses straddles between laughable farce and painful cringiness; culminating in a dramatic encounter that reveals her ridiculously hounding ways and Anthony’s cartoon-like ingenuity. Both are as bad as each other.
As can be guessed by the film’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Documentary win – it’s very well made, and utilises an Errol Morris-like entanglement with the world of social media, akin to Tabloid (2010). It’s also an intriguing insight into how exactly the American political party system works – and what goes into making one man stand out against the rest in the cut-throat world of politics. Whilst slightly lengthy in places compared to its snippy and precise focal family, Weiner commits great engagement with social media and its power in the modern world – and an honest, full frontal look at a man so defined by his mistakes. Overall, it’s a fascinating watch, and one that will make you think about how you present yourself as much as how you perceive others.
Weiner (2016), directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, featured at Sydney Film Festival 2016.