Former Congressman Anthony Weiner granted a documentary filmmaking crew access to his campaign for mayor of New York in 2013. The result is a film, which spotlights the political hubris of Weiner, and his wife, Huma Abedin, while at the same time bringing attention to the craft of documentary.
The punchline of former Congressman Anthony Weiner is well known to the world. He sent dick pictures to multiple women. He had phone sex and engaged in hours of texting with women, where he engaged in wild fantasies about what he could do with these women.
When details of his actions and photos became public, he resigned from his position in Congress. His wife did not leave him. He took full responsibility for what he did, and she forgave him. Less than two years later, he chose to run for mayor.
The film, titled, “Weiner,” strongly suggests the primary motivation for running for mayor involved rehabilitating Weiner’s political persona. Abedin, who is referred to as Hillary Clinton’s “right hand woman,” likely supported a mayoral campaign because it would help her keep her position in Clinton’s inner circle when she ran for president in the 2016 Election. And, for Weiner, it was a second chance at being an elected official.
It all goes well at first. A montage with Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” shows Weiner back in his element, as he takes part in parades and connects with the people of New York again. He rises to the top in the polls. But Weiner is unable to handle the reporters, who constantly ask questions about the scandal that led him to resign or gossip they have heard from family members (e.g. “Your brother said that your father never hugged you”).
The filmmakers build to when the news reported there were more photos and more sexual text messages. He even adopted the moniker, “Carlos Danger,” when communicating with women. His campaign is basically over at this point, but Weiner refuses to quit.
It is captivating to see Weiner and his team, along with Abedin, follow the playbook for handling political scandals. Weiner truly believes this will pass in 72 hours. Yet, a major problem for his campaign is that even Weiner cannot come up with a specific number of women to whom he sent dirty pictures or text messages. The press is able to pulverize him because it looks like he is hiding more transgressions from the public. Plus, what was revealed to voters indicates he engaged in this conduct for months after he resigned in spite of the fact that this was what had destroyed his reputation.
Weiner likens his situation to the fable about the frog and the scorpion, and on one hand, it is true that it seems he has, as he puts it, an “unlimited ability to fuck things up day by day.” The admission of flaws throughout the film makes it possible for the audience to sympathize with what Weiner is going through and pity him. However, the tragedy is ultimately comedy because of his quest for power and his vain belief that he can stand up for the people and that will make his personal struggles go away.
The cinematography incorporates a fly on the wall style for significant parts of the film. Viewers see these amazing real-time reactions of Weiner and Abedin to the news and late night television programs making Weiner an even bigger laughingstock of the world. Then, from time to time, the filmmakers ask questions as the camera is capturing the downward spiral of the campaign. The answers are rare moments of uncanned expressions, and in fact, during one scene, Weiner tersely mocks the filmmakers for no longer being flies on the wall.
In spite of the embarrassment and fear Weiner may have had to open up to the filmmakers, it is clear they are better than the press, which are there to engulf and devour him. They have no decency. They are not looking to ask hard questions about power. They want the salacious junk news gossip about whether Abedin isn’t on the campaign trail anymore because the marriage has gone sour again.
The documentary is bookended with candid self-reflections from Weiner, who maintains he does not regret granting access to the filmmakers. He does not know what the final product will be, whether it will solely focus on what makes him a political joke. Still, he is heard asking himself why Abedin let him film all of this.
Of course, the answer to that question is both thought he would compete well and possibly win. They fundamentally misunderstood the news media. They believed Abedin’s connections to the Clintons and their network of powerful individuals would insulate them from the past.
If it had been more than dick pics, if it had been more than sharing fantasies with women through text messages, the same script would have been followed to cover up the crime or the act of wrongdoing. The same steps would have been taken to recover from scandal.
Now, Abedin finds herself embroiled in Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. The FBI has interviewed her as part of their investigation because she knows lots of details about what Clinton did and did not do and what she does not want the public to know. Like with the far less serious case of Weiner, an identical playbook driven by political hubris has been followed by everyone involved. They certainly believe they are untouchable, and this will pass over.
That is the power of this documentary: seeing so clearly how someone of Weiner’s status believes he can engage in reckless or destructive behavior and suddenly make it all go away because that is what a person with power should be able to do.