Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Writers: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, Eli B. Despres
When Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg landed former US Congressman Anthony Weiner for a documentary on his New York Mayor campaign trail, even they couldn’t have foreseen what an incredibly insightful, dramatic and oh-so Hollywood sequence of events they’d come to document. What Weiner became was a story of deceit, a marriage on the brink of collapse and a cautionary tale regarding the price of fame, making it one of the more raw documentaries put to film in recent decades.
Anthony Weiner shot to fame in the early 2010s when his Twitter account released a number of explicit pictures to the internet. The congressman’s email had been hacked and the contents of his extra-marital online affairs aired to the world. His wife Huna Abedin, the vice-chair of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s white house campaign, stood by her husband as he recreated himself as a reformed and ultimately transparent potential mayor of New York City. Kriegman and Steinberg’s documentary exposes the reality of such a life in the limelight and the political strings that can force couples to stick together (or break apart) throughout often irredeemable circumstances, pulling away the curtain on the press created image of the congressman and his vice-chair partner to tell a much more honest and human story of the politics industry courtesy of its subjects’ struggles with an irrefutably damaged marriage that is caught in the mire of news media policy dedicated to making political races uncomfortably, and almost unethically, personal.
An access-all-areas type of documentary, Weiner’s production was given incredible access to much of the former congressman’s career and the interviews that the film presented seemed incredibly candid as the man behind the controversy spoke at length about the personal and professional journeys he was going on as well as the dichotomy between the two. In many respects, the interviews between the mayoral candidate and the filmmakers were presented as if therapy sessions in which Weiner would actively seek to bear the truth of his thoughts in the hope of an understanding or sympathetic return, though whether he wished for that to be from the filmmakers or the picture’s audience remains unclear, for Anthony Weiner seemed to have an affliction for the limelight and clearly saw himself as a kind of hero. He was at least somebody who wanted to be seen as one. Nevertheless, herein lied the movie’s biggest strength: the fascinating subject that was Anthony Weiner; superstar politician.
Weiner is presented in the documentary as a man who just can’t help but to get in his own way. For all his strengths and admirable qualities, of which there are many, the congressman just can’t help but to get caught up in sex scandal after sex scandal, and the cameras being on hand to film every step of the process in his team’s management of this situation is simply extraordinary. Campaign team meetings held in locations that develop from small office rooms to large media campaign bays pierce the narrative of the documentary at regular intervals to outline the amount of progress the politician is making, particularly in the early days of his candidacy, and the growing anxieties of the campaign team’s more prominent members become increasingly intriguing as the movie’s many revelations unfurl, offering a truly remarkable insight into the extraordinary stresses that any political campaign (often filled with youthful task-forces on low wages) has to encounter in such a high pressure industry. It is in this respect that the movie truly excels in ways beyond that of its central subject, as it capitalises on your empathy in order to establish a more profound and ultimately more political series of questions regarding the ethics of news reporting, the shift towards personal news from political news and, perhaps most importantly, the transparency or lack thereof of the US’s political landscape.
The presentation of the deterioration of Weiner from a once confident enthusiast into a quivering hot head at his own hands cleverly bullet points the narrative of the piece with the sort of riches to rags personal journey so often celebrated by large sections of society, yet upon watching the documentary this celebratory visage becomes much less black and white courtesy of the film’s active attempts to humanise the politician in question. And while the movie never seeks to do anything extraordinary with its formula or modes of presentation, the decision to avoid such methods only emphasises the way in which Weiner is presented as a transparent politician whose flaws are there for the world to see, something that has clearly never being quite so much the case with regular candidates for mayor, congressmen/women and so on, leaving the question: Is a guy whose major flaw is seemingly an addiction to sharing explicit pictures really that bad in comparison to politically and financially corrupt people regularly being put in charge of important public sectors? You can lean either way when it comes to answering this question and still enjoy the film, for it is precisely this thought process that makes the more political side of the documentary a success. Whether you like Anthony Weiner by the end of the film is also one of its most lingering questions, the answer to which largely depends on your beliefs, moral positioning and so on. Regardless of your stance however, there remains no doubt that the charisma of the man and the raw and almost unfiltered presentation of him is as close to a car crash you can’t turn away from as it gets in the modern age of documentary filmmaking, and makes Weiner a truly exceptional film in terms of its message and certainly its value as a vehicle for entertainment.
If you are willing to truly give yourself to this film and invest in this damaged man’s journey, you won’t be disappointed. Weiner is at once funny and serious, uplifting and depressing, and by its very nature is offering important commentary on news media and politics, yet above all else remains a raw story of a man’s descent from power. Whether you’re knowledgeable of politics, the United States and Mr. Weiner or not, you’re not going to be disappointed by this truly fantastic documentary film that will grab your attention and hold on for dear life even without the flashy techniques of some of its contemporaries.