Last names are important for politicians: they’re plastered on campaign signs, chanted by advocates. A surname is a metonym and one-word signifier for a politician’s values. This has always been an unfortunate reality for Democratic politician Anthony Weiner, whose last name has probably haunted him his whole life.
But Weiner made things much, much worse for himself in 2011 when he accidentally tweeted a dick pic, intended for a woman who was not his wife (Huma Abedin, long-time senior aide to Hillary Clinton). The photos seemed to have brought about an abrupt end to an otherwise promising political career. Weiner initially lied about the photos, claiming his phone was hacked, but later came clean and resigned from Congress. Two years was enough time to let Americans forgive and forget his sexting scandal – and so, Weiner rebounded in 2013, seeking the Democratic nomination for the New York City mayoral race.
Weiner, a fly-on-the-wall documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, begins tracking the campaign months before the election. The doc is supposed to be a candid examination of a unique case of political image representation, and there’s no denying that Weiner’s story is, indeed, very unique.
Few politicians with Weiner’s closet skeletons would allow the scrutiny of an ever-present camera to capture their every facial expression, awkward silence, and impulsive movement. Especially when, a third of the way into the campaign, more sexts from Weiner’s phone are exposed to the public. Yet Weiner doesn’t turn off the documentarians’ cameras: they are allowed to keep rolling, and the subsequent footage is quite incriminating.
Yet Weiner revels in the attention, demonstrating a perplexing sort of narcissism in which he believes he did nothing wrong. Certainly, his personal life is irrelevant to his abilities as a would-be mayor. But it’s his tendency to lie that constituents and journalists are concerned about – a fact he refuses to acknowledge in one interview after another. Weiner luxuriates in the limelight regardless of what he’s being taken to task for. He loves describing his rise-and-fall-and-rise narrative to anyone who cares to listen, but never forgets to bring his politicking back to a cause: fighting for the rights of middle and lower socioeconomic classes.
It’s easy to see why someone as charming and playful as Weiner got into politics (or why he’s wont to flirt). His victorious alliances with various New York communities are well-documented. The film wisely opens with a spot of that zeal: C-Span coverage of Weiner ranting against the GOP over medicare is an empowering show of political passion.
But the real star of the film is Abedin, the strategic mastermind behind his political career. It’s no question that people put their trust back into Weiner because she stood behind her husband. At first she’s all smiles and determination, but after Weinergate her face hints at a variety of emotions: regret, confusion, anger, and bewilderment.
In one bone-chilling moment husband and wife stare at each other, their sad eyes doing all the talking. But while the film hints at the complexity of a political power marriage – it becomes obvious that everything Abedin does is for the good of their careers and at the sake of maintaining a healthy marriage – the film never exposes anything truly revelatory about the cheapness of politicking in the digital age. That cheapness, ironically, aids the film’s purpose in providing solid entertainment. It’s Veep or In The Loop brought to life! But even more absurd and titillating. Weiner proves that truth is stranger than fiction.