“Why are you letting us film this?”
“I don’t know.”
Kind of the mission statement of this film, kind of its greatest unknown strength, Weiner is a documentary that pulls its greatest thoughts and power from the fact that there’s no reasonable person who should have actually allowed it to capture what it did. Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg may have started out as just capturing an attempted comeback, but they were somehow given front row center to the cratering of Anthony Weiner, former Congressman and current pariah.
The question at the heart of that cratering, and the question at the heart of the films, is also probably the most giggle-worthy aspect. Not that this film is straight-faced, you almost can’t play that with a film named Weiner. In fact, the whole thing plays out rather like a slow train-wreck cringe comedy, think The Office.
The central question of Weiner is: Why does this powerful man feel so compelled to show his penis to women on the internet?
Yeah, giggle, but at its heart, Weiner is a character study, and understanding Anthony Weiner is understanding why this man has the need to waggle his pickle at people he talks to on Twitter. As the film underlines, he’s never had sex with these women. Never used public funds inappropriately, never violated the law. Just sent pictures and naughty messages to Sydney Leathers under the name of Carlos Danger. It’s the question of men with power, where exactly can you be satisfied with what you have?
Weiner chooses to couch this exploration in as much discussion of Anthony Weiner the politician as Anthony Weiner the man. It’s actually almost shocking how apolitical the film’s admiration for him seems to be. He’s presented as the consummate example of the politician that people always say they want. Someone who’s no bullshit, no holding back, and fights relentlessly and powerfully for things that they absolutely believe it. He’s more about the policy, but he loves playing the public game. We constantly see him among people hugging and waving and chatting over the issues of the people of New York. There’s few bones that maybe his desire to slide into your DMs with his junk is maybe connected to the same impulse, that desire that everyone admires what he’s got.
That’s the tinge of sadness the film has with his downfall. He’s such an admirable figure in politics that the mistakes he makes over and over again that so disqualify him can be difficult to bear. It’s a difficult needle to thread, making clear this is a hypercompetent man who can’t stop doing a very stupid thing. And the directors do it admirably.
One of my favorite figures at the margins of this film is Huma Abedin. She’s at the margins because she chooses to be, but the little glimpses we get are perhaps the most striking part of wondering why anyone was letting this be filmed. Her marriage is dissolving around her, and she stays cool, calm, and collected, more than anyone would reasonably expect. It’s the effects of that masculine ideal of power, what it takes for everyone to admire you.
Ultimately the film does seem to let the conclusions be made by the viewer and the viewer alone. You don’t have to like or admire the guy, and who he is is who he is. Personally, he’s an ass, even if I admire the hell out what he fights for, which I suppose is my own bias coming in. But Weiner is super uninterested in the easy answers, rather it wants to cut through the jokes (though it has those in spades, given that it loves throwing the late-night monologues up on screen) and find the truth at the heart of politics and power.
I wish I could give a little more insight into the filmmaking here, but I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with the language. It’s an incredibly watchable documentary and lets you stand back and take it all in. If you’re like me, you’re gonna have a great time with it. Think Mitt, a similar character study of a wildly different man. It lays out the facts and cuts it just the right way to ask the questions. Nothing more and nothing less.
As we go into the possibility of a president who exemplifies every dark part of what this film explores, getting a little insight into a man who, rather than threatening to pull his dick out on a debate stage, actually couldn’t stop showing his weiner might help us find out how we got where we are, and warn us where we might be going.