Film review: Weiner

If this were a docu-film about a certain Republican, he would have ranted the film industry was rigged against him. That certain Republican does appear in it – as part of a kind of running subtitle at its beginning. In the thumb-nail clip, Trump rants “We can’t nominate a pervert into the house”, or something similar.

“Weiner” is not about Trump, but it is about politics. It is about another US politician – or rather ex-politician. This docu-film covers the second rise and fall of former senator Anthony Weiner.

weiner-posterNon US? In Europe in 2011? Then like me, you may well have forgotten all about the man and the scandal. Moreover, we had our own European rise-and-fall story.  It involved the then IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Khan. That sex scandal will apparently be turned into a film by Warner Bros. But yes: “Weiner” is about an US politician and sex scandal and it is a documentary-film.

It starts with shots of Anthony Weiner, while he is still a Republican senator. He is young, successful, a fighter and golden boy. He marries Huma Abedin, who is also heavily involved in Republican politics. A brilliant political career seems in store.

Then the sex scandal breaks and a new word was added to American English: dick pic. Some guys get Nobel Prizes for enhancing American English, but this one does not. He denies the pics are his. He claims his phone was hacked. In the end, it turns out he lied and his political career is over.

But he is a fighter, so about two years later, Anthony Weiner enters the race to become New York’s next mayor. A documentary team is invited to cover his campaign and also is allowed to film his home life. Probably as a move to convince voters how happy and normal it is. Also: one of the directors (Josh Kriegman) worked as a Weiner campaign team member years earlier.

What follows is not exactly the kind of docu-film the film team, campaign team, the Weiners themselves could possibly have foreseen. For Weiner gets a second chance and voters love him. One of the cards played out is the fact that his wife forgave him and supports him and that she is an important political figure in her own right.

But like two years earlier, another sex scandal erupts. At the start of the film, Weiner claims he has learnt his lesson, but clearly he has not. During and after the first scandal, all he had achieved is forgotten. When this scandal erupts, the fallout is worse.

Though Weiner fights on till the very last, only a meagre 4 point something percent of New York’s voters support him. He finishes last. The scandal continues with his team and him having to snoop through a MacDonald’s to prevent the umpteenth confrontation with press and awful online sex partner Sydney Leathers. The docu-film more or less ends with this and does not reveal, that ultimately, Weiner’s wife divorced him.

The film got good reviews. Many reviewers even called it hilarious. Most focussed on Weiner, the campaign, politics, elections. It does give some insight into how an US political election campaign operates. There is the fund-raising, networking and using of networks, the volunteers, the speeches, the canvassing, the silly things politicians do in order to secure votes, the difficult relationship with the media.

Contrary to many reviewers , I did not find Weiner that sympathetic. It is shocking to see how little he seems to grasp situations. In her UK Guardian review, Wendy Ide calls it narcism, but surely there is more wrong with the guy than that and his incomprehensible need to expose himself?

He simply seems incapable of grasping the toll his behaviour takes on campaign team members, his wife, supporters. This was the drama which I found most upsetting to watch.

There is the campaign’s communications director Barbara Morgan, who nearly breaks down. She is harassed by the press and has to put up with the press’ insinuating questions. After all: a woman working for such a man like Weiner surely must also be having a sexual affair with her boss?

There is also Weiner’s wife, who prefers to remain in the background of things – as even he states –  but is forced to take to the stage to support him. Forced into the limelight again, because the damage her self-destructive husband wreaks needs to be controlled. Forced to live the lie, while she also has to come to terms with her husband’s cheating, lying and humiliating her  – again. This is upsetting to watch. One can nearly pinpoint the moment their relationship breaks down beyond repair. Not that he notices, of course.

One of the most fascinating moments comes towards the end. Weiner is asked by one of the docu-film makers why he continued to allow the documentary team to film all. The political animal gives a political non-answer.

“Weiner” was released January 2016 and can currently be watched in European cinemas.
Directors: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg

YouTube official trailer Weiner

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