Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Sydney Leathers, Lawrence O’Donnell.
In Cinemas Now
Reviewed by Paige Hally
Passionate, charismatic and unfortunately named Congressman Anthony Weiner was
once a rising star in US politics. Before he developed a reputation for sleazy online
behaviour, he was was known for his impassioned speeches fighting for the middle
class, particularly after a video of a fiery outburst berating Republicans for blocking
healthcare funds for 9/11 first responders went viral in 2010. Shortly afterwards he
experienced a different kind of internet fame when a mis-posted photo on Twitter
prompted a sexting scandal that forced him to resign.
The documentary kicks off in 2013 as Weiner attempts to clean up his image and run for
New York City Mayor. The film – made by Weiner’s former aide Josh Kriegman and
Elyse Steinberg – was intended to document Weiner’s comeback. Initially that’s what it
does. While the press only want to discuss the scandal, much to Weiner’s frustration,
his supporters easily forgive him. With the support of a devoted campaign team and his
wife Huma Abedin (former Hillary Clinton aide currently serving as vice chairwoman to
her presidential campaign), Weiner rockets to the top of the polls and appears to be
winning an uphill battle.
That is until a second scandal emerges, with more accusations of explicit messages
long after the initial scandal broke. The cameras keep rolling and we see the scandal
develop as Weiner, his wife and his betrayed staff attempt to get the trainwreck of a
campaign back on track. Weiner allows the filmmakers an extraordinary amount of
access and it makes for a painfully intimate documentary. We see the campaign team
losing faith as Weiner scrambles to turn things around and the increasingly strained
relationship between Weiner and Huma.
While Huma is always present in the film – often quietly seething in the background with
crossed arms and rolling eyes – we don’t gain any insight into why she continues to
support her husband. This is ultimately not surprising for someone with a notorious and
self confessed reluctance to appear in the public eye. Disappointingly we also get very
little insight from Weiner into the motivation for his behaviour – other than one semi-
confessional scene – which is the film’s only major limitation.
Weiner is frequently very funny. At times it feels like less like a documentary and more
like a cringe comedy or an Armando Iannucci satire, particularly in one scene where
Weiner avoids being ambushed by a fame-hungry sexting partner named Sydney
Leathers – the only person who the film treats with real contempt.
Despite his indiscretions, Weiner is immensely likeable. We see examples of what a
skilled, passionate politician he was which makes watching his self sabotage all the
more frustrating. The documentary is largely objective, if somewhat sympathetic to
Weiner, and it’s the media’s treatment of the scandal that comes off looking the worst.
Many politicians careers have survived worse behaviour than anything Anthony Weiner
did, but with a last name that lends itself to puns so easily and a ridiculous online
pseudonym, Weiner never really had a hope of escaping the scandal. Though it is
extremely entertaining to watch him try.