“Weiner” is a 2016 documentary directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg about Anthony Weiner’s turbulent run for New York City mayor in 2013. For those unfamiliar with Weiner (as I was prior to watching the film’s trailer), rest assured that “Weiner” provides plenty of information on its subject. That said, there was never a point in the film where I felt that my ignorance was being pandered to by the directors. While technically a political documentary, “Weiner” works excellently as a comedy and is a film that just about anyone can enjoy.
The film spends a large chunk of its 96-minute run time looking at the sexting scandals that plagued Weiner’s run for mayor, as well as the effect it had on his relationship with his then-wife Huma Abedin — a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton. The film also provided a surprisingly large emotional component with the decision to put a spotlight on Weiner’s strained marriage with Abedin. While there is an obvious bias to paint Weiner in good light, there is a genuineness in suggesting the pain she felt on account of her husband. All the while, the film still delivers a hilarious narrative that could not exist if not for Weiner’s bright personality in the face of a maelstrom of a political race.
I found myself deeply engaged in Weiner’s plight — despite knowing the outcome of events, I could not help but root for the man. Editor Eli B. Despres does a great job highlighting footage of Weiner as a man of the people, with New York citizens chanting his name with fervor. So when the film cuts to scenes of Weiner being chastised by reporters and citizens alike, the audience feels the same pain. Sure, Weiner is not a faithful husband, but what do his personal matters have to do with his merit as a politician? The notion that his private affairs are irrelevant character flaws that do not affect his qualifications as mayor is a key point made in the film, and bring out an interesting point of discussion.
At a certain point in the film, Weiner is shown in an interview with the supercilious Lawrence O’Donnell. O’Donnell, as vexing as he may be, asks the most poignant question in the film, “What is wrong with you?” The film attempts to answer his question, searching for the root of Weiner’s mishaps — from flipping the bird at reporters to engaging in a heated exchange of words with a man in a bakery. But finding the source of his problems is pointless. While Weiner is shown to be a reckless politician, the emphasis on Weiner as a human being — flawed in ways that we all have the capacity to be — is captivating. Maybe he has problems with being in a monogamous relationship, or getting pissed off when provoked, but his dedication to the city of New York is apparent and unyielding.
Like any documentary, “Weiner” has a problem with relaying all the facts. There is an obvious sense that there is plenty information missing — especially in Abedin’s accounts. The bias placed on Weiner makes it hard to see any flaws in Weiner’s character save for his infidelity. The vague notion that he wanted to better the middle class was barely addressed, instead hoping the audience would assume he was the liberal savior of the poor folks that New York needed. Another minor flaw within the film is a minor section in the middle, in which Sydney Leathers — the first woman he was caught messaging — is introduced. A simulated iMessage exchange clumsily mislabeled sender and receiver, ultimately distracting me from the conversation itself. As nitpicky as it is, for a film that relies heavily on social media to tell its narrative, this should not have been an overlooked issue. Overall, these minor setbacks didn’t hold the film back too far.
“Weiner” delivers as a comedy while simultaneously documenting a catastrophe of a mayoral run from one of the most interesting wild cards in politics.