Review: Weiner


Weiner posterOne of the most famous penises in politics is only part of the story in this fascinating fly-on-the-wall piece that is part redemption story, part confessional and part examination of the media machine.

Anthony Weiner is incredibly frank from the start of this documentary about the reasons for his current fame. “The punchline is true about me,” he admits. “I did the things. But I did a lot of other things too.” As if to underline the point, a montage of images follows this confession, showcasing the firebrand congressman’s impassioned and unyielding speeches in favour of health care and low-income housing. Weiner was one of the Democrat’s most fiery defenders of the underdogs. Bill Clinton spoke at his wedding. He was a leading light in politics, at least until he accidentally tweeted a picture of his crotch in 2011.

WEINER is a chronicle of what happens when a singular personality is forced to use his energy to defend lifestyle choices instead of the things he stands for politically. The film is set around his 2013 New York mayoral campaign, a lifelong ambition that he also saw as the “straightest line” to cleaning up the mess resulting from his public extra-marital liaisons. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s get access to the work and life of Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin on the trail, but the film really becomes a exemplar of how the media truly runs the agenda for his campaign. Weiner’s exasperation is tangible, and the documentary is a virtual timeline of his temperament turning from defensive to attack mode, turning on the media and even his own film crew at times.

The titular Weiner’s woes are only half of the story, with the editing careful to quietly show the impact on Abedin and Weiner’s family. Abedin is largely known as Hillary Clinton’s right-hand, acting as both campaign manager and personal assistant. A number of media volleys questioned her judgment in sticking by her husband, especially when a second and more explicit wave of genital selfies emerges. Clearly reluctant to step into the spotlight, WEINER shows someone who is both politically savvy and devastatingly human forced to publicly deal with the indiscretions of her partner as the latter becomes the butt of jokes from late night hosts.

With the exception of a few direct questions from the filmmakers, and the occasional request for them to leave the room, the camera captures all of these non-verbal moments. Eli B. Despres’ (Blackfish) skillful editing places these off-guard moments alongside the consummate showmanship of Weiner, giving us an idea of how he went from argumentative politician to fighting with citizens in a bakery. There are a few curious moments when we feel participatory in the insanity, with certain scenes sharply bringing our recent engagement with the mockery back into focus. WEINER shows us that the future of public office is set, and a stark warning of what happens when emotion rules decisions just in time for the 2016 US presidential elections. Indeed, with social media making nothing a secret anymore, the subjects of this film may seem quaint in a few decades time.

WEINER is playing at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, 7-19 July 2016. It also screens at the Melbourne International Film Festival 28 July – 14 August 2016. It is also in limited release in Australia (NSW, ACT) from 28 July 2016 from Madman.

2016 | US | DIR: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg | CAST: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin | DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes | RATING: ★★★★½