If you’re not a resident of New York and don’t follow American late night talk shows, you probably never heard of Anthony Weiner. Or perhaps you were around Twitter when all that hell broke loose. Well, luckily for all of us, and with the perfect political timing, here is a documentary about Weiner, his first sex scandal, his run for New York Mayor and, as you may have guessed, his second sex scandal, the one which ruined his chances of getting elected and his political career, yet again. Because, you know, a man can’t run away from his own name (apparently).
Weiner became known thanks to a viral video on Youtube, where he passionately defended the pension rights of 9/11 firefighters. Hailed as a hero of the middle class, he got married to Hillary Clinton’s right hand woman, Huma, in 2010. But in 2011, when he accidentally tweeted a somewhat racy picture of his (covered) genitals, instead of sending a private message, that’s when the cookie crumbled, and Weiner is forced to resign from public office. But after two years away from the media attention, Weiner decided to run for New York mayor, and to allow the cameras of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to follow him. And so the world got Weiner, which won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary earlier this year at Sundance. Because, in a similar way to Queen of Versailles, what could have been a very straightforward, run-of-the-mill documentary, is given the OMG factor as a previous virtual acquaintance of Weiner decides to come forward with proper d*ck pics of the politician and shared all the saucy Facebook conversations that happened between them after, you know, Weiner resigned and promised to become a better person.
It’s like watching a train wreck – you just can’t take your eyes off the screen. First, all the backstage of an American political campaign, as Weiner and his social politics get him a comfortable lead in the run for Mayor. Then, as disaster struck, the media circus, the cruel jokes, and the fact that no one seems to care about Weiner’s policies anymore – in the eyes of the public, he is a liar, a pervert and doesn’t deserve the voters’ trust. Never mind that he didn’t get some in the Oval Office (and actually never met the women he texted): he is done. And as everything unfolds, the filmmakers are always there, always in the room until asked to leave, even getting the occasional grump from Weiner himself when asked a touchy question by the person behind the camera – “You know, the thing about flies on the wall, is that they don’t talk.” Weiner is terribly human, and starts snapping with members of the public, watches his TV humiliations in the morning “to help him start the day”, while Huma, the silent, supportive (??) wife, deals with all the possible and imaginary demons to stay on the side of her husband, as her own political career is put on the line because of his, err, erotic narcissism, not to mention the consequences for their marriage.
It’s not the aesthetically best shot documentary, getting pretty shaky at times, but the questions it raises are so strong all the formal mistakes need and will be forgiven. Full of dark humour, awkwardness and, well, the American political circus, Weiner will move us towards a backstage view that is rarely given to us in such a raw, honest state. And in the end, we will wonder, as the filmmakers did, how on Earth did he let them film this.
Weiner was released in UK cinemas on 8th July 2016.