‘Weiner’ unbelievably captures a disastrous political train wreck
Directors: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin
“Weiner” (2016) - “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” – Marshall McLuhan
This quote from Mr. McLuhan appears on the screen during this documentary’s opening moments about a former, seven-term U.S. congressman, and - in some ways – it obviously fits, but Anthony Weiner’s actions, not his name, delivered a fatal blow to his 2013 campaign to become New York City’s mayor.
Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg probably believed Weiner’s shenanigans were behind him when they began filming a behind-the-scenes mayoral election run, but they stumbled into one of the most infamous train wrecks in modern political history. In addition to providing a first-hand look at the inner workings of a large scale political campaign – complete with pushing signs, making phone calls and deliberating communication strategies - it offers a clear and transparent view into the devastating consequences of betraying the trust of coworkers, staff members, supporters, and most of all, one’s spouse. Make no mistake, this film – at times – is very painful to watch, but it presents a fascinating, disastrous reality show that truly is difficult to fathom.
Well, the movie documents Weiner’s experience in running for mayor, 13 weeks out until Election Day. At first, Kriegman and Steinberg refreshingly find that voters climbed on the bandwagon, rather than anticipating a future train wreck. Weiner conveyed honest, public contrition about sending salacious – although clothed – photos to a few women over social media back in 2011, and, after plenty of counseling, his wife, Huma Abedin, forgave him.
We see Huma stand with her husband at a fundraising luncheon, and she states, “I love my city, and I believe in my husband.”
Although the overall pleasantries look appropriate and cordial, one notes that Huma did not say that she loved her husband, and this public statement “miss” – deliberate or not – presents a bit of unfortunate foreshadowing.
New York City voters, however, seem behind him, as the camera picks up Weiner darting through city streets at midday and high-fiving hundreds of people like a pro wrestler running around a ring before his match. Small groups and large crowds offer him smiles, acceptance and – most importantly – a second chance. His popularity actually is a feel-good story, because a sizable portion of the public seemingly has forgiven him. With about eight weeks until Election Day, the polls have him leading the crowded race, when without warning, disaster strikes.
New personal and more explicit photos of him appear everywhere on the news, and Anthony Weiner suddenly has to explain his behavior all over again. The press and general public alike believed all of the vulgar pictures, texts and chat room material were previously flushed out, but new evidence of additional chicanery dramatically changes the mood of the previously-mentioned entities.
The film shows entertainment and news personalities like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Lawrence O’Donnell, and the press, in general, immediately pounce, as Weiner’s 2011 fall from grace repeats itself in 2013.
Weiner takes countless questions – whether in person, over the phone or on television - such as, “Are more women going to come forward?”, “What are you hiding today?” and “What’s wrong with you?”
Not unlike the Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote holding onto an ACME anvil and falling (and crashing) from a rocky ledge over and over again, he has no choice but to stand there and take his beatings. His constituents rightfully are not in a forgiving mood either, and they throw their collective hands up in disgust.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Kriegman and Steinberg’s cameras catch Weiner stoically stewing and suffering during private moments in the bare, white and impersonal campaign rooms and in various places in his apartment. The point is that Weiner has no escape hatch, but neither do his friends, colleagues and wife, because emotional collateral damage does not discriminate.
Huma suffers the most indignation and humiliation during the entire downfall, and she communicates her pain and disgust in mostly nonverbal ways. During the film’s last hour, the words, “that poor woman” scream in our brains, as we see her reactions to this horror show of past poor judgment play out publicly - and amazingly - in front of a pair of documentarians in her own home.
Mr. McLuhan could be right, but I do not know if Huma will ever recover. As a viewer, it will be a while before I do. (3.5/4 stars)