REVIEW: Weiner [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 96 minutes | Release Date: May 20th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Sundance Selects
Director(s): Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg
Writer(s): Eli B. Despres, Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

“We don’t care about the personal garbage. We’re from the Bronx.”

Here’s the rub on the whole Anthony Weiner scandal(s): Bill de Blasio’s approval rating just fell to 41% on May 24th. Would Weiner have been better? Who knows? Would he have won if not for a faulty timeline between his final sexting partner and a People magazine article wherein he said he was done with the extra-marital (non-physical) affairs? Maybe. Actually, there’s a pretty good chance he would have. I don’t follow politics nor do I lean Democrat, but from all I’ve heard—and from what directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg depict via archival footage in Weiner—the American people loved him. He’s brash, combative, opinionated, and for the people. He’s authentic. Maybe even honest … until he lied about being human. Depraved, but still human nonetheless.

This isn’t the first time there was a scandal involving extra-marital affairs and politicians, but it is the craziest. Bill Clinton got off easy (beyond an impeachment process for actions that had literally no bearing on his job as President of the United States) because the media was still just television, radio, and print. He didn’t have social media at his disposal to misuse. He didn’t have bloggers and two-centers atop soapboxes for millions to listen whether they were affiliated with a legitimate news source or not. Anthony Weiner did and boy did he implode as a result. Even so, it’s weird—if true—that Hilary Clinton would give Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin (one of her closest advisors) an ultimatum on whom to support. Pot, meet kettle.

But I digress. This tidbit is one sound-byte of many making Weiner’s NYC mayoral campaign so riveting a car wreck. Its adventure is better than reality TV because it’s really real. It’s scripted, but we watch it being written. Kreigman can’t even stop himself from asking why he was allowed to film every damning detail because it’s so raw. But while Weiner became what America covets for entertainment, we’d never vote Kim Kardashian into the Capital to scream on CSPAN. Well maybe we would, just not for the right reasons. At least Weiner was a qualified disaster. And if not for Sydney Leathers he may have done it too. We like assholes speaking their mind as long as they don’t lie … twice. Donald Trump, take note.

Whether or not you think what he did has any bearing on his politics or his “right” to run for public office is ultimately beside the point because we aren’t watching Weiner to see what happens. We know what happens. We know Bill de Blasio is mayor of New York City and Anthony Weiner is again nowhere to be seen. The idea of this documentary isn’t to show the race as much as it is twenty-first century campaigning with its insane level of poking and prying. This is a media firestorm inciting a circus with its “victim” helping fuel the fire by pouring oxygen on it despite knowing water is the better choice. The ways in which Weiner crucifies himself borders on masochistic. It’s mesmerizing to experience.

Kriegman and Steinberg capture everything from the moment he declares candidacy to the look of despair when the dust settles. They cut their own behind the scenes footage with the programs we watched unfolding on air. As Leathers comes forward to share her conversations with “Carlos Danger”, we witness Anthony spewing profanity to spin his head around the dates. And we see Huma’s drooped face knowing all the hard work they’ve done to put the embarrassment behind them would return full force. As fun as it is to observe Weiner smiling at the absurdity, it’s heartbreaking to see his wife’s dejected acceptance of what her life has become. This is the push and pull, the sacrifice and insanity necessary to put yourself in the spotlight.

For every person screaming at him to go home there’s another hugging and thanking him for doing what he’s doing. People from the Bronx try to shut down the sensationalists to get back on topic about issues, but the latter are too vociferous. It’s a sad state of affairs to accept: how an elected official could be so naïve as to do what Weiner did and how the public can be blinded by their misguided holier than thou entitlement to forget his place in the race beyond comic relief. I mentioned Trump above in jest, but I can’t help wondering if this film should be held up as a lesson to learn from. Maybe we should be grateful voters are looking at the issues despite Trump’s unsavory ethics.

Or perhaps we should be scratching our heads at how we’re once again ignoring the politics because the big personality is too huge to ignore. Republicans embrace it because Trump’s transgressions are verbally and psychologically attuned to a disgruntled populace clamoring to drag free speech through the mud in order to validate religious and racial persecution. Trump tweets offensive remarks many would deem criminal whereas Weiner tweeting his “weiner” actually broke no laws. Suddenly it seems as though we’ve let reality TV and sensationalistic media-tainment taint our values to the extremes. Politics have become exploitative and no one quite knows how to traverse the landscape. Weiner’s tribulations are a template for what’s coming and we should be afraid of the reveal our future is about to unleash.

Credit the filmmakers for staying objective to allow such thoughts, though, because they easily could have done the opposite. Weiner could have pushed an agenda to either vilify or paint a victim of a witch-hunt rather than reside somewhere in the middle with a fallible human being doing as much right as he is wrong. Would I have voted for him? Maybe. Would I want anyone to call him a role model? Absolutely not. I did, however, cultivate respect for both he and Huma through the endeavor. They could have closed up shop, buckling under the pressure of a tornado they never thought would get so intense instead of standing tall to fight for the issues to be heard. Sadly that exercise proved futile. No one was listening.


photography:
courtesy of IFC Films & Sundance Selects

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