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Review: Weiner (2016)

Weiner (2016)

Directed by: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg

Premise: A documentary about politician Anthony Weiner. The filmmakers follow Weiner during his 2013 run for mayor of New York City, following his resignation from the United States Congress because of a sex scandal. 

What Works: In the mid-2000s, New York congressman Anthony Weiner became a leftwing political star known for his quick wit, knowledge of legislative procedure, and combative debate style. But Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in 2011 following the reveal of sexually explicit social media exchanges with women other than his wife. Two years later, Weiner staged a comeback in a run for mayor of New York City but once again Weiner’s political ambitions were derailed by his scandalous behavior. The 2016 documentary Weiner is an example of filmmakers being in the right place at the right time. Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin allowed filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to tag along throughout the campaign and gave them access to meetings and staff as well as personal moments between the couple. What might have otherwise been an unremarkable character study became an extraordinary document of a campaign and a politician undone by scandal. In political storytelling, tales of failure are generally more interesting than stories about success and the narrative of Weiner is a look into fame, politics, and public relations in the age of social media. As demonstrated in this movie, Anthony Weiner rose to national prominence when his impassioned speeches went viral on digital platforms but his career was undone when the same happened to his illicit messages. Weiner is a portrait of that paradox as well as a study in crisis management and the intersection of politics and celebrity culture. The film poses questions to citizens about what relevance, if any, the personal moral conduct of a politician has on his or her fitness for office. It also suggests that the news media and citizenry are disingenuous when we claim not to care about a candidate’s private foibles; it’s the salacious details rather than the substance of policy that generates interest. And in that respect, Weiner is the story of a specific person but also a microcosm of American politics at this particular time.

What Doesn’t: This documentary remains within Anthony Weiner’s immediate circle of family and campaign staff. It includes inserts of news anchors and commentators reacting to the events as they unfold but the filmmakers never step back and examine what all of this means. There are inferences to be made about what Weiner has to say about contemporary politics and the way it is intertwined with social media and celebrity culture but the film’s approach remains mostly on the surface. The movie also, perhaps unintentionally, sets up a virgin-whore dichotomy between Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin and his digital liaison Sydney Leathers. The film presents Abedin as the dutiful political wife and Leathers as the wild sexpot and little else. Neither woman is given much of a voice in the documentary even though they each play a key role in this story.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: Weiner is a documentary that’s informative and engaging as a study of a man as well as a portrait of contemporary media and politics. The film quietly raises important questions about the role of public morality and what we want and expect from our public figures. 

Episode: #694 (April 15, 2018)