The Name Of A Man Is A Numbing Blow From Which He Never Recovers
Weiner is the new documentary that is about the disgraced former Congressman and New York City Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, and about the thing that brought him down.
Before Bernie Sanders emerged as the icon to young liberals who picked him to be the voice that spoke for them, there was a line of other politicians who were prepared to carry that mantle. From San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, to Florida Congressman Alvin Grayson, to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, before eventually landing on Sanders. And in the middle of that line was a darling of the left, the fiery and impassioned Anthony Weiner. A man that made a name for himself by screaming down colleagues on the House floor over a bill to take care of 9/11 first responders. When that video went viral, it gave me chills. Weiner is both attacking anti-government spending cowards and screaming about politicians wrapping themselves in procedures. He was one of a kind. He had the no-nonsense vernacular of Donald Trump and the passion of Sanders.
The movie very smartly starts with that clip, not needing much more than that to catch people up on who this guy was supposed to be, but then immediately shows what he became, by immediately cutting to scenes of reports of him sending tweets and texts of his crotch to young women, along with accidentally tweeting one of the pictures to the world. His downfall is documented in news reports. From there, the film explores his comeback, as he runs for Mayor of New York City, which is no spoiler to anyone who knows the story, turns into a second downfall.
Is Weiner an exploration into the human psyche? Does it provide answers to what makes politicians tick? And what brings them down? I don’t know about that, but “Weiner” is by far the funniest and one of the best times I have had in a theater this year. And is probably the most entertaining documentary I have ever seen.
What Anthony Weiner did was “disgraceful” I suppose. It was definitely a betrayal to his wife. But in terms of disgraced politicians, it wasn’t really that bad. He didn’t get oral sex in the oval office like Bill Clinton. He didn’t turn the White House into a brothel like JFK was rumored to have. He didn’t have sex with prostitutes like David Vitter did before doubling down on the family-values garbage which let him keep his still trudging political career. Weiner didn’t actually have sex with anyone else. He just sent pictures. But the pictures had the “ewww” factor that made him the first disgraced politician brought down by the social media world.
So let’s take the “morally reprehensible” crap off the table and accept that Weiner is a goofy, flawed, brilliant but in certain ways imcompetent, very likeable man who is completely underserving of his wife and then build a documentary around that. Make sure the documentary is funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously and generally just matches both Weiner himself and the situation.
And it brilliantly achieves all of that. If I didn’t follow this story when it happened, there’s no way I would have believed it could be true. It feels like the most Coen brothers movie they never directed. Weiner comes off like The Dude. He’s remarkably stupid and out-of control, but occasionally says brilliant things putting people in their places. He can’t stop himself from his eccentric outbursts, though he always acknowledges afterwards how dumb it was. The highlight of the film is his infamous outburst at Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, telling Lawrence he is going to come back and kick his ass. Later he continuously replays the video asking his wife if it is bad. Yes, she says. Very bad.
And like any great movie, you need a moral center. And that’s definitely not going to be Weiner. That role is played brilliantly by Huma Abedin, his wife and long-time Hillary Clinton staff-member. She is intoxicating, equally brilliant to him without the terrible parts, and beautiful beyond words. She is victim to all of his shenanigans, and points out his mistakes (which are constant) by simply closing her eyes, perhaps reevaluating everything in her life.
And the supporting cast of characters hold the film even higher. His team of young idealist supporters who are slowly getting a crash course on what politicians are like. The young female Las Vegas blackjack dealer who brought him down during his race, who is as attention-seeking and terrible as he is. An Asian staff member who is really bad at not saying campaign codenames to the camera before taking out a cigarette and lighting it like he is some incarnation of James Dean. And so many more.
And yet, through it all, you still sympathize with Weiner. He is as smart as he is dumb. As good as he is bad. The movie plays with your emotions. One moment you think Weiner is horribly in the wrong. A scene he is in a Jewish bakery talking to potential voters and he is called a scumbag by a patron. Instead of walking away and saying to himself that some people are just like that, Weiner gets in the man’s face and yells at the man, asking who he is to judge. The man yells back. Another patron asks the camera “why didn’t he just walk away?” You agree whole-heartedly. Weiner just asks for these things. But then while he walks away, the man is heard saying one more comment to Weiner in disgust. “Plus you married an Arab.” (referring to Huma) By the man revealing himself to be a racist, you wonder, is Weiner a narcissist who yells at anyone who questions him, or does he have some ability to give it to the worst people in the world in a way we cannot fathom.
Towards the end of the movie, the director asks Weiner with pity “why did you let me film this?” When even the director knows it’s a trainwreck of a situation, that can’t be a good sign. Weiner doesn’t seem to know. Maybe because he knows a brilliant film is happening in this mess of a career.
This is not only my favorite movie of the year so far, but it is a must-see. You may leave with a different opinion on the man and his downfall, or you may not. But you will smile and laugh the whole time. Is Weiner a narcissist? Probably. Does he have a heart? Yes. Does he deserve his amazing wife? No way. Is he still a very likeable person who would be fun to hang out with? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be an elected official? Absolutely not. And should you see this movie? Without a doubt.