Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Cast: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Stephen Colbert
Watch Weiner online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The timing of the release of this gripping fly-on-the-wall documentary couldn’t be better, what with the increasingly bitter Trump-Clinton Presidential election campaign and the utter chaos in British politics, as a result of the Brexit vote. In fact, a Conservative MP even kindly managed to get involved in a sexting scandal (mirroring that of the film) on the very weekend of its release, which must have pleased distributor Dogwoof no end. Exceptional timeliness aside, the film is endlessly fascinating on a number of different levels, operating simultaneously as a compelling and intimate character study, a thrilling, West Wing-style behind-the-scenes look at a troubled political campaign, and a scathing indictment of the US media.
In 2011, Congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to resign, after a sexting scandal that came to light when he accidentally tweeted a photo of his clothed-but-erect penis. Two years later, Weiner attempts to put his past behind him, as he embarks on a bid to become Mayor of New York, with the loyal backing of his wife, Huma Abedin, herself a key political figure as a result of her close involvement with Hilary Clinton.
At first, Weiner has significant momentum and the voters seem genuinely willing to give him a second chance, even booing his opponents, who try to bring up his sexting scandal in opposition debates. However, when fresh sexting revelations emerge, Weiner’s campaign is dealt a powerful blow, forcing his frustrated team into serious damage control mode.
Filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman (Weiner’s former congressional chief-of-staff) were granted extraordinary access during shooting and the results are riveting – Weiner emerges as a complex and fascinating figure, at once a genuinely gifted politician (you’ll want to cheer at the clips of his pre-scandal triumphs in Congress), yet ultimately undone by his own seemingly compulsive indiscretions. To that end, the filmmakers take a refreshingly non-judgemental stance: they withhold details of the scandal (such as whether or not the new messages occurred during the New York campaign) and stop short of attempting to extract an apology or an admission of addiction during Weiner’s main to-camera interview.
Weiner may be a deeply flawed person, but he is an extraordinary politician and it’s impossible to come away from the film with anything but the utmost respect for both his passionate commitment to his cause and his refusal to give up. One particular highlight occurs when Weiner effectively wades into the lion’s den and attends an extremely hostile political meeting; while arguing with an angry former supporter, he gradually wins over the room, earning spirited applause.
The film’s depiction of the election campaign is equally fascinating: Steinberg and Kriegman capture the heady rush of Weiner’s early success, which only intensifies the crushing disappointment as the campaign is derailed. Similarly, the filmmakers uncover several colourful and amusing details, such when a Weiner aide accidentally lets slip that publicity-hungry sexting victim Sydney Leathers (who keeps trying to ambush his political appearances) is code-named “Pineapple”, or the casually mentioned fact that Weiner’s self-chosen sexting pseudonym was “Carlos Danger”.
At the same time, the film paints an immensely depressing portrait of so-called political journalism in the States, with even the more serious outlets only interested in fuelling and prolonging the scandal story, or, when they eventually get tired of that, turning their attention to the effect the scandal has had on Weiner’s marriage to Abedin. Superbly directed and dynamically edited, this is a compelling, all-too-human story that’s well worth seeking out.
Weiner is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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