Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers”. This caustic quote opens the fascinating new documentary, “Weiner,” a Sundance darling scheduled for release in theaters May 20 and on Showtime later in the year. In fly-on-the-wall fashion, this entertaining film watches Anthony Weiner crash and burn during his 2013 NYC Mayoral campaign; his misguided attempt at political redemption after social media selfies made his private parts public and brought his career to a screeching halt. “Weiner” is directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, who was once a senior aide to Weiner and whose insider status garnered them unprecedented access to the media and marriage muck in which Weiner wallows throughout the 90 minute documentary.
For a brief while the viewer is rooting for Weiner, the scrappy underdog fighting to get back on top. He has apologized for his mistakes and vowed to make a new beginning. We are impressed by clips from his passionate tirades on the US House floor and softened by heartfelt scenes with his wife, Huma Abedin, tending to their infant son and speaking to one another in the hushed tones of a newly committed couple who have weathered a storm and come out stronger for it. Abedin, an lifelong aide to Hillary Clinton and currently vice-chair of Hillary’s 2016 Presidential campaign, is elegant and supportive as the politician’s wife, quietly raising big bucks for his campaign while silently cringing at the constant humiliations she faces by choosing to stay at his side.
The fierce enthusiasm of Weiner’s campaigning is wonderfully captured in Ace Frehley’s anthemic “Back in the New York Groove,” played over a montage of the candidate dancing in myriad ethnic parades, kissing babies and glad handing anyone who will touch him. Yes, he’s rockin’, rollin’ and reinventin’ and we’re right there with him. That is, until we meet Sydney Leathers, the 23 year old future porn star and Weiner’s notorious sexting partner. When she begins her media crusade to prove that he is not, in fact, rehabilitated, she outs him as the hypocritical, lying, sleezy politician that we almost forgot he was.
Enter Carlos Danger, Weiner’s sexting nom de plume and alter ego. Carlos’ salacious attention-seeking and self-delusion reduce Anthony to a series of mocking NY Post headlines, liberally sprinkled throughout the film. With Danger back on the scene, the campaign goes into full out damage control. Weiner is petulant that people won’t get past “the thing.” He’s testy with reporters, rude to his staff and snippy with his long-suffering wife. Things go from bad to worse until all that is left is a humiliating defeat in the most public way, with Leathers orchestrating a sideshow confrontation on the night of his concession speech. Fittingly, the film ends with Weiner giving the finger to a pack of journalists as he slinks into his limo in disgrace.
Make no mistake. This is not a movie about politics. But it does mirror the sensational and scurrilous circus that politics has become.
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