IT'S POSSIBLE that if you don't live in New York City or follow politics closely, the first time you heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner was when he sent a picture of his package over his public Twitter account. It was May 27, 2011, the day the headlines wrote themselves.
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's documentary Weiner picks up with this moment firmly acknowledged. It's 2013, post-Bulgegate, and Weiner's putting the past behind him and running for mayor of New York City. But just as his campaign is picking up steam, a crop of new explicit images and exchanges surface, putting his comeback in jeopardy.
I remember what happened next, and you probably do, too: He was re-eviscerated in the media (no thanks to his nom de peen "Carlos Danger") and lost—badly—to Bill de Blasio. I was more curious about how the film, not Weiner, would handle the revelation.
Instead, it unfolds just like you remember: the headlines, the late-night jokes, the doomed campaign. There's no new information to exonerate or condemn, just a replay of the inevitable fallout.
Sure, we're treated to candid reactions from Weiner and those close to him. We witness a pathetic staff debriefing straight out of Veep. (It's somehow not as funny when it's real people and real politics.) Weiner's wife Huma Abedin smolders as her husband digs himself deeper in public appearances. We watch from the wings as Weiner loudly fires back at MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell—his acrimony ringing hollowly on a deserted set, one of the more poignant moments in the film. These shots are tense, honest, and often embarrassing. Yet the exasperation felt by his wife, his staff, and his supporters is as utterly predictable and expected as Weiner's uphill battle to put his indiscretions behind him.
That's the thing: As impatient as Weiner is to move on, as petty as the New York Post headlines get, as odious as Sydney Leathers is (and she is the worst), Weiner himself was responsible for his downfall. I had to actively remind myself of this while watching Weiner since the film didn't bother to do so. (By the way, co-director Kriegman was Weiner's former chief of staff.)
The most interesting aspect of the film by far is Weiner's wife. Abedin has an adorable child, a flawless wardrobe, and knows people who could make you disappear. Abedin doesn't say, "Keep that bitch Sydney Leathers away from me." Instead she says, "I'm not going to face the indignity of being accosted." She will tightly smile while 1,000 fires burn inside her. When she stands next to her husband at a press conference and says, "It was my choice to stay in this marriage," you actually believe her.
Abedin's also worked directly next to Hillary Clinton for the past 20 years. This alone makes for a more interesting subject than a three-year-old sexting scandal. But instead of examining what Weiner's transgressions meant for what could have been the Democratic Party's most potent political power couple, the film chooses the 24-hour news cycle and media consumption as a larger story.
To put it another way, Abedin is deeply tied and influential to the candidate who will take on Trump in the national election. But Weiner doesn't explore any of those ramifications. Instead, we rarely stray from the orbit of Anthony—a man who now appears on cable news, works as a consultant, and cameoed in Sharknado 3. He remains active on Twitter.