Weiner is a prime piece of entertainment and its core entertainer, former US Congressman Anthony Weiner, is undeniably charismatic.
It would not appear to be a difficult feat to make an entertaining documentary about a man who is famous for a high profile political sex scandal and who happens to have a last name that is also a euphemism for male genitalia. The content is already there, waiting to be exposed. Weiner is a prime piece of entertainment and its core entertainer, former US Congressman Anthony Weiner, is undeniably charismatic. If the film was less concerned with the pieces of Weiner’s story that gain laughter in the theater and more bent on a showing a story that hasn’t been told before, Weiner would be not only a film you couldn’t look away from but one which you wouldn’t want to take your eyes off of.
Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a documentary centered on Anthony Weiner’s 2013 New York City mayoral bid. At the start of the campaign we already have a Weiner who has been publicly shamed and who has resigned from Congress after lewd photographs and text messages were revealed. This is meant to be his comeback. Things go surprisingly well until round two of the explicit text messages are released in the middle of the race, sending his campaign spiraling towards an obvious defeat. There is something satisfying about watching a man refuse to give up, even when it is in his best interest to quit. If Weiner was hoping the film was going to rejuvenate his public image, perhaps even though the campaign didn’t go as planned he will still receive a bit more credit after audiences watch him try over and over again to win the respect of New York City’s democrats.
The intent of Weiner is what creates the uneasy feeling when the film is over, mostly because the intent seems to be rather shrouded. Kriegman previously worked for Weiner, but it does not feel as though he is building up nor taking down his former boss. The filmmakers have said that they wanted to present Weiner as a full person instead of as a joke. The film doesn’t quite work to that end. Rarely does the viewer get insight into Weiner’s political agenda or what his plans looked like should he have won the election. Too much of the screen time is dedicated to clips from late night talk shows and shots of tabloid covers, clips and covers the public couldn’t avoid during the summer of 2013 and don’t need a constant reminder of now. The most intimate moments come when Weiner is being a family man instead of a politician, though the line is always blurred. Kriegman and Steinberg presented a fuller picture of the man than the media had done three years ago, but there is a sense that it wasn’t the fullest.
During a scene shot in the backseat of a car, Weiner himself critiques the fly-on-the-wall style of documentary work which the filmmakers are using and in that moment the control imbalance is impossible to ignore. Weiner is entirely aware of the narrative that the film is telling, so how intimate can it be? While it is incredibly enjoyable to watch, made more enjoyable by the music (Jeff Beal) and the editing (Eli Despres), it never does it reach very deep below the surface. Even the most unsettling times—any of the scenes with Weiner’s wife Huma—register more as brief references than thorough reflections. The interesting material for an audience who saw the Daily News headlines and watched “The Colbert Report” during that summer are the behind the scenes looks at the campaign headquarters and interviews with the people who believed in the man as a serious candidate. Even the details of how the campaign proceeded after the second scandal hit is captivating and new. The rest of it is tabloid fodder which should have been left in the wastebaskets and, in this case, on cutting room floor.