The sad saga of Anthony Weiner is broadly rehashed in Weiner, a fly-on-the-wall documentary by Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg scheduled to open in Toronto on July 1.
Scrappy, combative and brash, Weiner — a member of the House of Representatives — was a rising star in the Democratic Party until a sex scandal, in 2011, forced him to resign under direct pressure from President Barack Obama.
Weiner had sent sexually explicit notes and photographs to several women as his wife, Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides, waited to give birth to their first child. Two years later, while running for New York City’s mayoralty, he was caught yet again sexting, sealing his fall from grace.
Why on earth would be jeopardize his marriage, much less his political career, for cheap online thrills? Or as a blunt TV interviewer asks three-quarters of the way through this candid film, “What is wrong with you?”
The question, which goes to the heart of the matter, is never really answered. Weiner obstinately dances around it, refusing to face his deficiencies head on. And Kreigman, his former assistant, doesn’t even bother trying to get to the bottom of this conundrum. Nonetheless, Weiner is a fascinating excursion into the self-destructive behavior of a man who seemed to have it all until he suddenly didn’t.
Weiner focuses on his unsuccessful bid to become the Big Apple’s next mayor. Born and bred in New York, he admits he’s a flawed character, but asks the electorate to give him a second chance. Some New Yorkers, like Donald Trump, oppose his candidacy. “We don’t want perverts elected,” he says brusquely in a clip dug up by Kreigman and Steinberg.
Weiner, whose escapades bring to mind the infidelities of fellow New York pol Eliot Spitzer, is an adept campaigner. He appears at a pro-Israel parade, waving an Israeli flag and shouting “Am Yisrael Chai.” He addresses a few hundred Jamaicans, gamely putting on a Jamaican accent. And then he wades into the crowd, pressing the flesh.
Weiner’s self-composed, dignified wife, a Muslim of Indian and Pakistani descent, campaigns avidly for him, saying she’s “very proud of what he’s doing.” She assures voters that her husband will create a “safe and secure” environment in the city.
He’s flying high in the polls when reality bites. Sydney Leathers, a woman with whom he’s had a sexting correspondence, exposes Weiner, and the tabloids go into a feeding frenzy mode
Rushing to his defence at a hastily arranged press conference, Huma Abedin, stoical as usual, acknowledges his defects, but professes her love for, and faith in, Weiner.
Talk show hosts gleefully skewer him.
In a candid moment with his distraught communications manager, he reluctantly confesses he contacted more than one woman.
As the campaign grinds on, Weiner shows a scintilla of remorse. “I had a blind spot and it was a big one,” he muses. “I did the thing,” he adds. And, of course, he expresses profound sorrow for his indiscretions.
A confidant tells him his chances of winning are nil, but Weiner won’t quit. Ideas count, he maintains. He runs on a platform of improving the lot of middle-class New Yorkers.
At a kosher bakery, he loses his temper, becoming embroiled in a gratuitous shouting match with a man who’s called him a “scumbag.” By way of retort, Weiner dismisses his critic as a “jackass.” The exchange is broadcast in full, further diminishing Weiner’s image and his path to the mayor’s office.
The final blow is administered by Sydney Leathers, a shameless publicity hound, who shows up at his office, photographers and reporters in tow.
Weiner, which gets remarkably close to him and his wife, is about a sick and clueless man and a failed politician. It’s American political theater in the best tradition of the genre.