A violent emotional rollercoaster of a documentary, this topsy-turvy examination of former New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s fall from grace is an all-too-rare melding of hilarity, sadness and outrage. It is a story that, if presented as a fiction, would likely be lambasted for being too ridiculous…even if mounted as an In the Loop-style political satire.
Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg began shaping their film around Weiner’s comeback to politics after resigning from Congress in 2011 following a sexting scandal. Weiner quickly became a down-to-Earth man of the people as he launched his 2013 mayoral campaign, but the worst was yet to come, and further controversies inevitably torpedoed his campaign beyond recognition.
Weiner could easily have been a facile, frothy doc about the most unfortunately-monikered politician in recent history, but it instead goes further, riffing on everything from how unreasonably delineated private behaviour affects voting decisions, the insatiable role of the media, the public’s fetishistic love for a comeback, human ego and finally, the inevitablity of self-sabotage.
As a character study is where the pic unquestionably works best; Kriegman and Steinberg have been granted near-unprecedented access to a politician in the thick of an historic campaign, resulting in a pile of uncomfortably intimate scenes, most cringe-worthily between Weiner and his beleaguered wife Huma Abedin, whose pained facial expressions at her husband’s continuing foibles could easily be pulled from just about any episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office.
If you’re looking for an underdog success story, this is absolutely not that, but rather a subversion of the crowd-pleasing docs that tend to win Academy Awards. There is little in the way of redemption for the titular character, even if you might ultimately sympathise with the way he was pilloried by the media in spite of his own hubris. Perhaps the film’s most memorably telling moment has a member of the camera crew asking Weiner why he continues to grant them such invasive access to his personal life, and therein probably lies the single most evocative and revealing portrait of the man you could ask for.
You need only a cursory knowledge of or interest in world politics to mine plenty of fascination and entertainment out of this one; it balances itself perfectly as an absurdist tragi-comedy, neither outright mocking the man nor lending him too much sympathy. If it isn’t a major Oscar contender next year, then just add that to the list of Weiner’s inconceivable screw-ups.
Weiner is available in select cinemas and on VOD now