(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg
Anthony Weiner is a great subject for a documentary. The former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives and New York City Councilor had apparently thrown away a brilliant political career when he was caught sexting with multiple women in 2011. Two years later, with the full-hearted support of his wife Huma Abedin, Weiner decided to revive his career by running for mayor of New York.
At that point, Josh Kriegman, a former Weiner political aide, and his filmmaking partner Elyse Steinberg, were allowed unprecedented access by Weiner to make a doc about his home life and campaign. At first, all went well. Audiences in New York took to Weiner, accepting his apology and embracing his opinions about how to better the city. Huma, a quiet but brilliantly effective woman, who is one of Hilary Clinton’s main political insiders, made rare public statements endorsing her man. At one point, in the Democratic mayoral primary Weiner was neck and neck with Bill de Blasio, who eventually was the winning candidate in the ensuing election.
What happened to Weiner was extraordinary. He was caught in yet another sexting scandal, this time involving a part-time porn actress named Sydney Leathers. Rather than resigning from the campaign, Weiner insisted on fighting on, bringing his marriage and integrity into microscopic scrutiny and huge media attention. Weiner became the subject, once again, of jokes on all the late night shows from Colbert to Leno. He was harassed everywhere he went, including—memorably—a Brooklyn deli where he engaged in a vitriolic yelling match with a Jewish customer who had abused Weiner’s wife, an Arab, in absentia. By the end of the disastrous campaign, Weiner was reduced to running through a McDonald’s burger joint and up a back entrance so he could avoid Sydney Leathers before publically accepting his defeat.
Weiner documents its subject’s humiliation in front of a constant media glare that lasted for weeks. To his credit, Weiner accepted Kriegman’s presence in his life during what must have been his darkest days. In a funny, revealing moment, when Kriegman asks him a searching question, Weiner replies that he thought fly-on-the-wall documentarians didn’t query their subjects.
Ever combative and humorous, Anthony Weiner is a terrific lead “actor” in a documentary. It’s clear that Weiner doesn’t understand the dark forces in his personality that caused him to derail his career twice. He doesn’t have affairs with the women—just sexts them. Why? He has a wife who loves and supports him—and they have a child.
At the moment, Huma is back in politics, as one of Hilary Clinton’s most important aides. And Weiner is the subject of an excellent documentary that can’t explain the man but does show how terrifying the media can be.
Weiner opens in Toronto at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on July 1.