Wednesday May 25, 2016
Movie Review: Weiner (2016)
The truest, funniest, most necessary line in “Weiner” is spoken by documentarian Josh Kriegman near the end.
It’s the night of the New York City mayoral primary, Sept. 13, 2013, and as the returns come in, it’s apparent that candidate Anthony Weiner, who in an early poll led with 25 percent of the vote, has gotten crushed: He finishes with less than 5 percent. Meaning all of the work he and his staff and his wife (and his wife!) have gone through during the previous months has been for naught: the ramping up, the fundraising, the endless ethnic parades and shaking of hands; the newspaper and magazine and television interviews; the attempts to overcome Weiner’s idiotic 2010 sexting scandal only to be immersed in the wider, more egregious, and more punchline-worthy “Carlos Danger” scandal of 2013, all of it for nothing. And after the concession speech, with its own farcical elements, and after friends and staff have left, it’s just Weiner and his lovely wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, in the silence of their Manhattan apartment. Oh, and Kriegman and his camera. And it’s Kriegman who breaks the silence with the question we’ve wondered throughout this painful, absurd, all-too-human exposé:
“Why are you letting me film this?”
You deserve a break today
I’d forgotten about the second scandal, by the way. Or I guess I thought the second scandal was simply a rehash of the first instead of its own new thing. I tend to turn away from public accidents like this. I don’t rubberneck on the freeway, either. So why did I go see this documentary about a carwreck of a political career? Two reasons: I heard it was good, and I was curious what it could tell me about Anthony Weiner that I didn’t know.
Give him this: He’s a man who doesn’t back down from a fight—any fight. The floor of the U.S. House, a political dais, a bakery in Brooklyn: It’s all the same to him. “I don’t like bullies,” he says, but it only makes sense if the fight is worth it, and in the doc his fights are increasingly not worth it. Not after “Carlos Danger.”
He’s articulate and quick-witted, too. He has a great line when he’s riding in the back of his towncar to another whatever—event, interview—and Kriegman asks him something, and Weiner responds with a query of his own: Is there a species of fly on the wall that talks? He’d like to know about that. He thinks that would be interesting to see: a fly on the wall that talks. It’s one of the wittier ways of saying “Shut the fuck up.”
There’s tragedy in this. You look at Weiner’s attacks on Republicans in 2009, 2010, his sticking up for the common man, and you think about what might have been. You look at his wife, so beautiful and poised, and how important this image of the two of them, the Jew and the Muslim, could’ve been for the world.
Instead, the image is of bulging gray underwear. The movie opens with a great quote from Marshall McLuhan, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers,” but Weiner manages to come up with a worse name than his own: Carlos Danger. And the woman he’s sexting has an equally ridiculous name: Sydney Leathers. The press goes crazy over all of this; Huma is even drawn into it. The New York Post, with maybe an eye toward Hillary, attacks her for sticking by her husband. Truly, the press comes off awful here. We’re a moralizing culture that craves dirt. We keep throwing the first stone but it’s a tomato.
Election night is the worst. Leathers goes on Howard Stern’s show, and he convinces her to stalk Weiner, to wait outside his campaign headquarters to confront the losing candidate. To kick a man when he’s down? For shits and giggles? It’s never stated why. But off she goes, happy for another day in the spotlight, and he’s forced to dash through a nearby McDonald’s to avoid her. Even in losing, he’s not allowed a moment of grace. Every element of his life is turned into farce.
The role of women in these scandals generally goes unexplored. We get why men are attracted to beautiful women but why are women attracted to famous men? One wonders, too, what our history would be like if we assumed the same sexual restraint on the part of political leaders as we do from a Mick Jagger or a Warren Beatty. Is the scandal that we like the scandal? That we need the scandal? But there’s an obvious lesson: Women who will fuck you because you’re famous will most assuredly eliminate the middle man given the chance.
So get up and get away
You know what stunned me? Huma and Anthony are still together. I watched everything he dragged her through and assumed the marriage was kaput. It’s not. Not officially. How did he salvage it? What did he say to her in private? In the private more private than the private we see.
As for the question Kriegman asks? Why let him film this? I guess it’s all we’ve mentioned: Weiner’s inability to not fight; his desire for the last word. Or maybe he needs the spotlight as much as Leathers. Maybe it’s the same reason for the sexting that brought down his career: He can’t help himself.
One of the best scenes in the doc, one that will stick with me as indicative of our times, is Weiner’s post-Carlos Danger interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC—an interview that takes place via satellite. O’Donnell, both high-handed and exasperated, is in the studio, while Weiner, increasingly desperate and combative, with a look in his eyes that asks “It’s him, right?” when he knows it’s himself, is ... I don’t even know where Weiner is here. A big empty room. But he’s got the earpiece in, and the lights and camera are on, and Kriegman and co-director Elyse Steinberg cut to footage of that combative, split-screen exchange as it appears on TV. But they also pull back and show us what it’s like to be where they are. And from that perspective, Anthony Weiner is simply a man talking to himself in the midst of a big empty.