Film / Reviews

‘Weiner’: America’s walking, talking punch line

by Giovanni Fazio

If you feel like your cinematic diet has been a bit lacking in schadenfreude lately, then look no further than “Weiner,” an astounding internet-age documentary of hubris and disgrace, where no stupid behavior, once recorded, ever disappears.

Who, you may ask, is Weiner? Well, somewhere way down the long list of Democratic scapegoats for Hillary Clinton’s jaw-dropping election loss — after FBI director James Comey, Vladimir Putin, “Bernie bros,” Jill Stein, the electoral college and the vast right-wing conspiracy — you get to disgraced New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

The unfortunately-named Weiner, once a rising star within the Democratic Party, was brought low by a series of salacious sexting scandals, the last of which involved a minor, thus triggering an FBI investigation. When the Feds seized his personal computer, which was also used by his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, they found a trove of emails from Clinton during her time as secretary of state. This put Clinton’s never-ending email issue (using a personal account to purportedly avoid leaving an official record) back in the headlines right before Election Day and may have cost her the presidency.

Weiner (Weiner: Korinai Otoko no Senkyo Wozu)
Rating
Run Time 95 mins
Language English

The irony, of course, is exquisite: Hillary, who launched her own political career by standing by her man — riding out Bill Clinton’s dalliances with Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, et al. — was burned by her aide, Abedin, who was trying the same. You see, this was not Weiner’s first time to hit the headlines due to the risque selfies that he was sending to other women online — under user names like “Carlos Danger” — but his third.

When “Weiner” director Josh Kriegman begin filming in May 2013, he probably thought — like his subject — that he would be covering one of the craziest political comebacks ever. Weiner, who had resigned from Congress in disgrace two years earlier after accidentally tweeting a photo of his bulging undies, had entered the New York City mayor’s race, and had pulled ahead in the polls. This was in large part thanks to his politically connected wife, Abedin, who helped make the case that he was a changed man, their marriage back on track.

When Abedin speaks at a press conference rolling out her husband’s campaign — “Our challenges and what we went through, it’s nothing compared to what so many families in this city face every day” — her overly prepped delivery and carefully calibrated shifts in tone bear an uncanny resemblance to her mentor, Clinton. One of the film’s virtues is capturing how modern American politics has become a form of theater — and bad theater at that, which is arguably what left much of the public susceptible to the all-id “honesty” of Donald Trump.

Weiner’s incessant schmoozing and combative liberal firebrand image seemed to be working, until one sunny morning a photo of Weiner’s weiner pops up on internet gossip site The Dirty, along with the sexting that he engaged in with one Sydney Leathers. Crucially, this took place after Weiner had resigned from Congress. Leathers quickly sold her tawdry story to the tabloids, and Weiner’s entire “redemption” narrative came crumbling down. However toxic online perversion is, it’s nowhere near as fatal as displaying the stupidity (or arrogance) of making the same mistake twice.

At this point, the doc becomes like a real-life version of “Veep,” with the oh-so-slippery Weiner and his staff trying to spin their way out of the crisis, while Abedin seems to crawl back inside herself like a sand crab. Weiner’s uncanny vocal resemblance to a young Woody Allen makes him seem even funnier in his misery, bordering on slapstick as he tries to avoid a confrontation with Leathers before his concession speech.

You can’t help but feel a little sorry for the guy, though. Sure, he screwed up, but the simple fact of his name turns him into a punch line like no other for late-night TV and the New York Post headline writers (“Weiner Pulls Out!”). As Woody himself once remarked, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”