Weiner ****

A punchline of a title for a seriously well-done film.

Is it worth $10 Yes

While I find it peculiar to have to give a “Weiner” four stars (that will be the only “weiner” joke I make; the media has already run the gamut on them) the new documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg is a fascinating look inside a “media firestorm.” Set against the backdrop of ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner’s New York mayoral race, the film begins as a straightforward look at a disgraced politician and husband trying to salvage his life and career after a series of very public scandals. However, in a turn of fortune for the directors, a fresh scandal rocks the protagonist in the middle of his campaign. What follows is an unabashedly honest and first-hand look at the effects of bad decisions, political scrambling, and the media’s effect on all of that.

Anthony Weiner was a strong-willed and promising Democrat who tendered his resignation from Congress after a series of photographs of his privates found their way online along with allegations of communications of a sexual nature with multiple women other than his wife, Huma Abedin. Two years later, Weiner attempted to mount a political comeback as he announced his bid for mayor of New York in 2013. At the same time, he agreed to allow a documentary crew to follow him around, 24/7, to document, what I’m certain he hoped would be a portrait of a changed man, a better politician, and someone who is more than a punchline to any number of crude (and ironically appropriate) jokes.

As the race begins, he is the frontrunner, gaining back a lot of respect by taking a stance of fighting for the people who support him while being open about the indiscretions of his past. His wife, we are shown, stands beside him, supportive and forgiving. Then the camera crew captures the moment when all the progress he had made during the campaign fell to pieces. Akin to the moment in “Fahrenheit 9/11” when George W. Bush is given the news of the terrorist attacks while reading to a group of schoolchildren, Weiner’s reaction is solemn, quiet shock. As the cameras roll, the audience is able to watch the change come over him, see the mechanisms begin to work as thoughts of cover-ups, backpedaling, acceptance, and damage-control all fight for their place at the forefront of his mind.

What follows are a series of slip-ups, verbal sparring matches, and plenty of other utterances that show Weiner’s true colors. The vast contrast from his prepared, televised speeches and press conferences to his behind-closed-doors confessions, campaign wrangling, and egotism is hard to stomach. It is during this stretch that his wife Huma is painted as not only a victim but is shifted to the protagonist of the story. The narrative that Kriegman and Steinberg spin allows Huma to exhibit great strength but clearly identifies her as the victim. The conversation is no longer how could Weiner do this to himself (continually) but rather how can she continue to allow this to happen to herself. She cares about Weiner enough to stick by his side and support him, but is continuously hurt – borderline abused – by him, perhaps to the point of self-deprecation.

As a character-study, the film exceeds tremendously, painting both leads in an unabashedly honest, riveting way. However, “Weiner” takes advantage of the current political landscape to draw connections from the past to the present. One comment issued by a commentator after Weiner’s second scandal draws into question voters’ willingness to allow spectacle to outweigh substance come voting day. How can certain candidates gain traction, let alone the public conscientiously vote for someone so cantankerous, dishonest, and unashamedly narcissistic as Weiner? That question, at the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind this election season, is what gives the film relevance nearly three years after the events depicted occurred.

“Weiner” is a fascinating character study that provides unrestricted access into the heart of a media firestorm. The filmmakers crafted a compelling narrative out of a very public series of events and were able to make them relevant again despite a lapse of three years. Those with preconceived notions about Weiner the man will likely walk away, feelings unchanged, but may gain an appreciation for the victims of similar actions both in the political arena and in their private lives.

Josh Walbert is an entertainment guru with a passion for film and television. He lives south of Orlando, FL, with his girlfriend, and relatively extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection.

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