The political documentary, “Weiner,” will probably make you cringe, but not necessarily for the most obvious reasons. Many people who buy tickets may be motivated by the salacious prospect of reliving New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s 2011 sexting scandal. And, indeed, they will get their money’s worth—including the infamous underwear-bulge shot and a pixellated rendition of Weiner’s genital selfie. But there is a lot more to this film than that.
The documentary begins two years after revelations about Weiner’s sexting habit forced him to resign from Congress. It’s 2013, and Weiner has decided to run for Mayor of New York. Weiner is a liberal firebrand and was once the youngest member of New York’s City Council. His campaign is a big-stage attempt at a political comeback. But a second sexting scandal emerges, and [spoiler alert] Weiner ends up dead last [4.9% of the vote] in the race that swept Bill DeBlasio into office.
Weiner grants almost unlimited access to the filmmakers, allowing us to see him, his family and his campaign workers in some very raw moments. It’s not a pretty picture. You have to wonder why he didn’t stop the film when things turned terribly sour in his campaign and his personal life. The armchair shrink in me thinks that Weiner is such a narcissist, such an egotist, and so needful of attention that he believed that the documentary would offer proof of his political brilliance and worth.
It doesn’t. Instead, what I saw was a totally self-absorbed man—cocky [pun intended], calculating and certain that he is right. And worse yet, a consummate user of people: particularly of his wife, Huma Abedin, a behind-the-scenes political force in her own right. She is one of Hillary Clinton’s most trusted advisers.
And for me, the crux of this film is Weiner’s psycho/political abuse of Huma Abedin. People wonder why she stood next to him when he initially lied about his sexting compulsion, and why she didn’t just dump him. We may never know. But we see several painful scenes [again, why did Abedin not tell the filmmakers to stop?] in which Abedin is clearly seething at Weiner’s attempts to wriggle out of his latest screw-up–and use her connections to help him run for mayor. But the film also makes us aware that Weiner and Abedin have a toddler at home. Did Abedin do what so many betrayed women do—stay with the jerk as a way of protecting her child from hurt? Maybe she’ll dump him when the child is older. But, for now, she seems resigned to staying with Weiner. Isn’t that acquiescence a hallmark of psychological abuse?
Everyone will see what they want in this film: Weiner as a full-on perv; or, Weiner as a lost opportunity for progressives [his self-inflicted downfall is sad, because he appears to be sincerely liberal on policy]; or, Weiner as just another of the self-entitled jerks we all knew in high-school. As with all documentaries, it’s difficult to figure out how much of what happens on-screen is Weiner consciously playing for the cameras, how much is the real guy, and what role editing has played in conveying his obnoxiousness.
For a while, in the 1990s and early 2000s, we could comfort ourselves with the mythology that all of the Congressional perverts and family-values hypocrites were Republicans. Weiner put the lie to that kind of wishful thinking. And if he thought that opening himself up to up-close public scrutiny via this documentary would help people like him enough to revive his political career and gain himself some measure of personal redemption, he was wrong.
Agreeing to this documentary, and appearing [pretending?] to talk honestly about his indiscretions comes off as just another act of narcissism and of the exhibitionism that he so crudely displayed in the first place. Ick. I need to wash my hands.
[Update, August 2016: Another round of sexting by Weiner–in 2015–has surfaced. One of his texts is a dick pic that includes his toddler son in the background. Ugh. Apparently, this was the last straw, and Huma Abedin has announced that she is separating from Weiner.]