By John Corrado
★★★ (out of 4)
From his impassioned hubris to his pun-ready name, you would be hard pressed to find a fictional political figure as fascinating and conflicted as Anthony Weiner, the popular and married Democratic congressman who was forced to resign amidst a sexting scandal, and saw his chance for a comeback when he entered the New York City mayoral race in 2013.
Now he is the subject of Weiner, a gripping documentary that offers a fascinating look at how even the most charismatic figures can be befallen by scandal. Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg set out to make a film about his comeback, but they ended up with something even more interesting, when another scandal unfolded right before their lenses.
Because well after he vowed to stop chatting up women online, Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign was threatened by the emergence of more lewd exchanges and the leak of embarrassing nude photos, which he was sharing under the ridiculous alias of Carlos Danger to porn star Sydney Leathers, leading to allegations of being a sex addict and causing many voters to question his trustworthiness. This is captured in compelling and almost uncomfortably frank detail in Weiner, as the filmmakers follow along and put us on the frontlines as these various political crises unfold in real time.
We are able to witness the intense media backlash that followed, with the camera watching as his staffers and volunteers are sent into panic. We see how the whole ordeal even tested the patience of his wife Huma Abedin, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, who tries hard to stand by his side at events but also doesn’t want the bad press her husband attracts to effect her own political ambitions. After all, a man with the last name Weiner being immersed in one sexting scandal after another was just too good for social media and the late night talk shows to ignore.
The camera shows Anthony Weiner as a man driven by ego and the need to be in the media spotlight, which is precisely why he gave the film crew pretty much unlimited access to his campaign, willingly letting them into his personal home and office. We are allowed to see him in some pretty unflattering moments, but Weiner is also fascinating for the few flashes when he actually kind of evokes sympathy in his dogged determination to stay in the race. A heated encounter in a deli shop that became the source of a viral video comes to mind, and even a riveting sequence where Sydney Leathers tries to confront him after an event, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on his notoriety and her place in the scandal.
The few times when he does break the fourth wall, and directly questions the role of the interviewer, are pure documentary gold. All irresistible puns about his name aside, Weiner is a very entertaining and often revealing look at the disastrous political campaign of a candidate who keeps digging his own grave deeper and deeper with every public gaffe and hotheaded encounter, having seemingly no clue how to avoid the bad press that keeps coming his way. There are moments when it would have been best for him to just walk away, but the fact that he doesn’t is what makes him so compelling to watch.
Weiner is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (formerly the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) in Toronto. Tickets and showtimes can be found right here.