Dir.: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg; Documentary; USA 2016, 100 min.
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s debut documentary WEINER is an illuminating if rather damning portrait of the popular but disgraced ex-congressman who had to resign in 2011 after publishing his own lewd personal photographs on the net. The scandal also scuppered his mayoral chance in his hometown of New York when it happened again two years later.
We meet Anthony Weiner – pronounced Wiener, like the sausage, leading to some hilarity after his first indiscretion – when he was still a serious politician. He was eloquent and passionate, a rising star in the Democratic Party – and well connected, thanks to his marriage in the same year to Huma Abedin, Hilary Clinton’s PPS. But he blew it all because of the size his ego and his member. When given a second chance after his resignation – permitting Kriegman and Steinberg to cover his campaign – he was profoundly apologetic to the public for his misdemeanours. His wife had not only forgiven him, but she campaigned actively for him.
With their first son toddling around, this could be an advert for a happy family living the American Dream. We see Weiner campaigning, joining the LGBT parade on the streets of New York, visiting neighbourhood projects, Abedin often at his side. Then comes the bombshell: Weiner had – under the pseudonym of ‘Carlos Danger’ (sic) – been sexting Sydney Leathers, a 22 year old Black Jack dealer from Las Vegas, on a regular basis, often five times a day. The hilarious, cringeworthy texts were read out on TV shows, and Weiner admitted his guilt – but would not give up the contest. Even when his campaign manager Danny Kedem resigned in July 2013, Weiner went on campaigning, ‘on auto-pilot’. Wounded and humiliated, Huma Abedin also left the team – but not her man. At least she was spared the final insult, when her husband was seen running away from Leathers (and the television) crews) on Polling Day, hiding like a schoolboy. Self-righteous to the end. The campaign diary ends on Weiner giving the middle finger to the media outlets, chasing him.
WEINER makes for compelling viewing; serving as a reminder of how US politics and the entertainment industry feed off one another – it is no accident that we see Donald Trump putting in his two penny worth. Politics is live entertainment shown at its best. When Weiner is confronted in a Jewish Deli and accused of “being married to an Arab”, for once understandingly, he loses his cool.
But the serious underlying questions are never asked, instead we are treated to a shouting match, guaranteeing good ratings. Kriegman, as his own DOP, keeps up the lively pace, and at the end, he, like the audience, wonders, why Weiner and Abedin allowed them to film their humiliation. It seems that the rules of show business still apply to politics – bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. being in the news for whatever reason is preferable to being not mentioned at all. Donald Trump being an abiding example. AS
ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 JULY 2016