The Boy Can’t Help It
By Glenn Lovell
Watching the new documentary on Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman whose surname became a Comedy Central punchline, is like watching a train wreck unfold in super-slow mo. The wiry Weiner – alternately described here as combatant, scrappy, “a preening self-promoter” – is, if anything, incorrigible. Brought low in 2011, after emailed pictures of his junk went viral, the candidate swears two years later that he has learned his lesson, come clean and is newly committed to the public weal.
And as proof he pays lip service to such hot-button issues as universal health care, education and the disappearing middle class.
But like any addict Weiner just can’t help himself. Even as he complains about being the media’s whipping boy, he enjoys the buzz that comes with skating too close to the abyss.
As long-suffering wife Huma Abedin folds her arms and looks away in disgust, hubby can’t stifle a mischievous grin. Back on the stump he’s obviously having a ball, despite the irreparable harm done to his reputation and loved ones.
In the end, after having been thoroughly thrashed in a “comeback” election, he muses, “I wonder if I had more time, could I rebound again?”
Talk about not learning your lesson. Weiner would be a tragic figure if he weren’t so street savvy and self-possessed.
For the award-winning “Weiner,” directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg cover the three-month run-up to the 2013 NYC mayoral primary. The filmmakers, given full access to their subject, review his sullied past, then chronicle his very public mea culpa. Besides Weiner, who both plays to the camera and resents it (a fly-on-the-wall documentarian should be, well, more like flies on the wall, he lectures), the film includes interviews with young staffers and volunteers, some of whom are obviously are more interested in forging contacts through Huma, a Hillary Clinton adviser, than in staking their careers on her at times unstable husband.
Who can blame them? After all, their boss shamelessly exploits his wife’s Rolodex for fundraising – to the point where she says “I’m not comfortable with this.”
Were this doc only about a disgraced politico attempting to claw his way back into his constituency’s good graces it would make for compelling viewing. Because Weiner is an adrenaline junket who always needs to be on the firing line, it’s about a lot more. With six weeks to go to the primary, additional sexting messages turn up and Weiner is back on the defensive parsing his string of half-truths. How many women were there? Does he answer “multiple” or “Yes, more than one.”
Adding to the chaos — and happily exploited by the filmmakers for their cross-cut climax — is a former sexting partner with the improbably name Sydney Leathers. Egged by Howard Stern, Leathers stakes out Weiner’s campaign HQ on the evening of his ignominious defeat.
This is a compact, beautifully edited and scored (by “House of Cards’ ” Jeff Beal) documentary that should hold your attention throughout. The filmmakers hit pay dirt when they got Weiner to sit for them. He’s an impassioned, articulate firebrand (he describes his two years between his resignation and the primary as “living in this defensive crouch”) who’s not afraid to wander into enemy territory and take his licks.
Now if only he could keep his narcissistic namesake in his pants.
WEINER ✮✮✮ Documentary produced, directed by Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg; written by Kriegman, Steinberg, Eli Despres; music by Jeff Beal. 96 min. Rated R (for profanity, adult subject matter)