Joyce Glasser reviews Weiner (July 8, 2016)
With everything going on in British politics today, you might not be tempted to spend 100 minutes learning about Anthony Weiner’s disastrous campaign to become the mayor of New York City in 2013. Give in to temptation as Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner is a hugely entertaining documentary with all the drama and human foibles of a Shakespearean tragedy. There is also a rewarding dose of humour. Along with the larger-than-life Jewish eponymous protagonist, we meet his high-profile Muslim wife, Huma Mahmood Abedin. At one point, Huma is forced to choose between her disgraced husband’s campaign and that of Hillary Clinton, for whom Huma worked as a campaign advisor, political aide and Chief of Staff at the State Department.
Anthony Weiner began his career at age 27 as a councilman from Brooklyn in 1991. An intelligent, passionate (to a fault), and popular US congressman, he served in the House of Representatives from 2009-2011. In 2010 he married Huma, Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff at the State Department and they had a son. Just as Weiner was making friends and enemies and attracting attention for his heartfelt arguments in Congress, he was forced to resign in June, 2011 due to a twitter leak. Ironically reminiscent of the sex-scandal involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Weiner, too, gave in to an irrational and self-destructive sexual temptation. But unlike Clinton, Weiner was brought down by virtual affairs with women he never even met
Despite his disgraceful exit from Congress, Weiner is made for politics and decides to run for Mayor in 2013 after his formal public apology and assurances that the ‘mistake’ was behind him. Weiner has a natural ability to connect to the various ethnic groups in New York City, and had a sufficient number of donors and degree of party support, some of whom contributed because of Huma, to make his bid for mayor plausible. The filmmakers capture the excitement of the campaign and the day-to-day life of a family on the campaign trail, from fund raising, to public appearances, to staff meetings and ultimately, to damage limitation.
Weiner might have a natural talent for politics, but he also has a tragic flaw. At the beginning, Weiner (whose name is also ironic) is proving a formidable rival to Bill de Blasio, but then he pushes the self-destruct button, quite literally, when he sends a new, and fatal, twitter. Almost two years to the day after his congressional resignation comes the leak of explicit photos under the alias Carlos Danger, sent to woman later identified as Sydney Leathers.
It could not get any sleazier. Leathers, a 22-year-old from Indiana who originally contacted Weiner to criticise him for his immoral conduct, is determined to drag Weiner down. To add insult to injury, and perhaps profit financially, she even tries to organise a television meeting with Weiner just after the election. Leathers appears in the film, heavily made up and bursting out of a tight, revealing red dress, as the ugly face of social media.
You might not like or respect Weiner at the end of the film either, but you might feel sorry for him, and the wasted career of someone who could have been a great mayor. You also have to feel for Huma who, like Hillary, stuck with her man, even if she did not appear with him in public at the end of the campaign. Whether their marriage will last is another matter.
This fascinating film would have been enhanced by insights into the mental or even physical condition that prompts someone to act in such an irrational, self-destructive and uncharacteristic manner. Is it a variation of OCD, in that the reflex is involuntary? How could an intelligent, well brought-up and educated man with a wonderful wife, a child he adores and a promising career, throw it all away for a sexual indulgence that is easily traced back to him? Even the prospect of dealing with the embarrassment of such an action would be enough to discourage any ordinary person. That is the question we, and a lot of disappointed voters and donors, are left with.
You can watch the film trailer for here: