Anthony Weiner, the subject of the new documentary Weiner, has gone on record that he will not be seeing the film. (“I know how it ends, and it wasn’t pretty.”) That may be understandable on his part. Harder to grasp is why he gave documentarians Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg almost limitless access to himself, his campaign and his family, especially his wife Huma Abedin (aide to Hillary Clinton).
Even if you can write that off as fueled by the overly optimistic view of Weiner’s political comeback bid as candidate for mayor of New York — and a degree of plain old egotism — it’s harder to understand why he let the documentary keep going once the comeback came crashing down. But he did, and it makes for surprisingly compelling viewing despite the fact that the audience presumably knows how it ends and the fact that the film never provides an answer to the “why” of any of this. That last may be because no one — including Weiner — really can explain it.
The documentary takes place — and was filmed more or less as it was happening — after Weiner resigned from congress over a scandal involving sending lewd photos over the internet in 2011. At the time, Weiner had been a popular rising star in the Democratic party, and suddenly that was over. In 2013, he decided to stage his own comeback with this mayoral bid. At first, this looked like a genuine comeback. He was ahead in the polls. His natural fiery charisma and innate appeal was charming voters apparently ready to put the unfortunate events of two years before behind them. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before further examples of Weiner’s sexting tendencies started to show up. And not entirely from the past.
So we watch. We watch as Weiner denies this and dodges that, seemingly sure of his own ability to wiggle out of anything just on words, the power of his personality and the not uncommon modern delusion that saying a thing is as good as following through on it. We watch as Huma Abedin’s apprehensive support turns colder and colder and then stops altogether. (The pair are still married, however.) What we see is a magnificent tragedy and a grim comedy that is sometimes just plain ludicrous and a little pathetic. It manages that toughest of tricks: to make you hope that what you know is going to happen won’t. The trick is that Weiner, for all his arrogance and all his stupid moves and his own admitted “unlimited ability to fuck things up,” remains strangely likable through a mixture of self-deprecating humor and utter cluelessness. Here is a man who can do something spectacularly stupid in front of TV cameras, then watch the footage and think he came off well.
What we have is a portrait of a man who was both made and unmade by the media, a man unable to handle his own impulses. In fact, late in the film, Kriegman (from behind the camera) asks why Weiner has allowed him to film this. And Weiner has no real answer, merely a shrug. The truth may be that Weiner is so addicted to the media — and, by disastrous extension, social media — that nothing is real unless someone is watching it. Whether this is merely symptomatic of our society on a grand scale, with its obsession to document everything it thinks, does and even eats, is for the viewer to decide. Rated R for language and some sexual material.
Playing at Fine Arts Theatre.