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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Weiner

March 24th, 2017

For some, inexplicable-to-me reason, back in 2013, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner allowed a documentary crew full access to himself, his family, and his political team during his campaign for the Democratic nomination to be the Mayor of New York City.  Mr. Weiner’s attempt at political resuscitation came crashing down around his ears in spectacular fashion when, a few weeks into the campaign, new sexting scandals came to light. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s incredible documentary chronicles Mr. Weiner’s entire campaign, from the declaration of his candidacy in May, 2013, to his ignominious finish in September, 2013, in which he wound up in fifth place in the New York Democratic primary, having received only 4.9% of the vote.

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It’s remarkable that this film exists.  That Mr. Weiner would allow these cameras into his life and office and home, AND that he would continue to allow it after the second sexting scandal broke, is somewhat mind-boggling.  Mr. Kriegman and Ms. Steinberg’s cameras were given incredible access throughout the campaign.  The result is a film that is an intimate, you-can’t-look-away story of personal and professional catastrophe.  There’s something quite mesmerizing about it.  It’s a fascinating how-the-sausage-is-made look behind the scenes of a modern political campaign, and a devastating story of a very flawed man destroying himself.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying, funny and deeply sad.

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a remarkable film that has so much to say about the political and human realities of our current age.  Anthony Weiner strikes me as a man of great talent and charisma who was undone by his own failings, his hubris and his ego and his addiction to technology.  When Mr. Weiner was a young, on-the-rise star of the democratic party, his youth and his ability to connect with voters, and his use of social media technology like twitter, were critical skills in his toolbox that he wielded to great success.  That same social media technology was intimately involved in his fall.  (It’s hard not to draw a connection between Anthony Weiner’s twitter obsession, for good and for ill, and that of our current President.)  And what a fall.  After the tremendous humiliation of the initial scandal that forced Mr. Weiner to resign from Congress and remain in what he calls in the film “a defensive crouch” for two years, this second humiliation and abject failure is hard to believe and unpleasant to watch.  Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Weiner’s political leanings, his public disgrace as chronicled in this film is gruesome to behold.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Weiner is not just the film’s inside-look at Anthony Weiner himself, but also at his then-wife Huma Abedin.  As a close confidant and right-hand-woman of Hillary Clinton, Ms. Abedin has long been a source of interest for political junkies.  But Ms. Abedin has always eschewed the spotlight (which, of course, is why so many are so interested in her).  So it is doubly remarkable that she, along with her then-husband Mr. Weiner, allowed these documentary cameras into their lives.  It’s hard not to feel great sympathy for Ms. Abedin when watching this film.  We see her stand up for her husband in the first half of the film, to the point of making a poignant and seemingly heartfelt speech on his behalf at an early news conference.  Then, when the second scandal happens, we can see clearly — based on the way she attempts to step back out of the public eye — how this affects her.  It’s quite sad.

The film is not just a fascinating look at Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin, but also a glimpse into the way that modern campaigns are run.  We see the work that goes into setting up political offices and hiring staff; we see the candidate’s efforts to raise money, we see the interviews and the stump speeches and all the events, big and small.  It’s fascinating watching Mr. Weiner and his team navigate all this, even before the second scandal breaks.  (There’s a fascinating short sequence, late in the film, in which we see Mr. Weiner being interviewed on TV.  He’s connected to the interviewer remotely, listening to the questions on a headset, all the while he is sitting by himself all alone in an empty room.  The documentary cameras show Mr. Weiner, alone, having one side of a conversation.  It’s not just an interesting here-is-how-this-stuff-really-happens behind-the-scenes look, but also, of course, a poignant metaphor for Mr. Weiner himself at that stage.)  It’s sort of astonishing that ANYONE wants to run for public office in this day and age, and this film reinforces my great respect for those who choose to do so.

For anyone even remotely interested in politics, this documentary is a must-see.  It’s a riveting modern-day trainwreck, a fascinating document of the implosion of a political campaign and a public life.

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