Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral campaign was supposed to be a comeback, a vindication of the former congressman whose career imploded two years earlier after he accidentally shared a sexually explicit photo on his public Twitter account (he intended to send the picture to a specific woman; oops!).
Public outcry and relentless mockery in the media forced Weiner to resign. But the fiery, outspoken politician wasn’t done. When he launched his run for mayor of New York City in May of 2013, he was polling far ahead of his rivals (including Bill de Blasio, who would eventually win the election). At public appearances, voters flocked to Weiner, attracted by his support of minorities and the middle class. Weiner even decided to invite filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to shadow him, allowing them uncommon access into his campaign for a documentary that would presumably depict his rise-from-the-ashes victory.
Instead, the resulting film Weiner tells a different story — a portrait of a man so consumed by hubris and confidence that he is utterly blind to his failings. Five months into his campaign, which was being run by an energetic staff of young, fresh-faced believers passionate about their candidate, Weiner was busted again for the exact same thing — more phone sex antics, this time using the alias “Carlos Danger.”
Weiner tries to keep his staff from losing their faith (“After 72 hours, it’s not going to be the lead on Drudge anymore!” he implores), but he seems incapable of registering the great disappointment in the face of Barbara Morgan, his hard-working communications director, or the disapproval of his wife, Huma Abedin (a former aide to Hillary Clinton), who in some shots can barely bring herself to even look at her husband.
Instead, Weiner dives deeper into his campaign, participating in contentious interviews on live TV (“What is wrong with you?” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asks him) and getting into shouting matches with hecklers at public appearances. At a press conference in which he intends to lay out a specific economic plan for the city, reporters sit quietly when he asks for on-topic interviews. The second he goes off topic, he can’t keep up with all the questions being shouted at him.
But as unlikable as Weiner comes across and as reprehensible as his lack of conscience is, the movie quietly argues he is a natural-born politician, a person who will not be deterred from his mission, no matter how much mud is flung at him. Long after he’s become a laughingstock (for the second time), he’s still out there campaigning, standing in front of smaller and more hostile crowds but holding his ground. In one terrific scene, he meets with a group of voters in City Island, who initially pelt him with insults but by the end of the conversation are applauding him.
Weiner isn’t a retrospective documentary: There are no talking-head interviews with people recounting what happened back then. The film was all shot in the moment, so it can’t provide the answers the viewer desperately craves, such as why Abedin has stuck with her husband even though he has repeatedly humiliated her on a worldwide stage. There isn’t a moment, either, when Weiner comes clean about his duplicitous acts or admits some sort of deep character flaw: He simply expects you to take him at face value and let his work — not his personal dalliances — define him.
Late in Weiner, after he’s been crushed on election night, he speaks into the camera, telling the filmmakers he hopes the movie will be “more than a punch line” to his career. But he never sounds defeated: Even at film’s end, you can still imagine him trying to pull off one more miraculous comeback. And you never know: Mayor de Blasio, who is up for re-election next year, is now embroiled in a potentially career-derailing controversy of his own. The fact that the prospect of Weiner: Part 2 remains plausible is a testament to his tenaciousness and his insatiable need for attention – of any kind.
With: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Barbara Morgan, Sydney Leathers.
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg.
Editor: Eli Despres.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Tower, Cosford, O Cinema Wynwood; in Broward: Gateway.