There wasn’t an empty seat in the Bloor Hot Docs cinema for the Friday evening screening of Weiner, directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman. It was a full house for good reason; this feature-length documentary is at once informative and hilarious, fascinating and cringe-worthy. It’s much like watching Icarus dare to touch the sun; you know exactly what the outcome will be, but you can’t look away.
Many will remember the scandals of former democratic house representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned from congress after photos of his genitals, which he had reportedly sent to several women, were leaked. The film catches up with Weiner a couple years later, in 2013, as he decides to run for mayor of New York City, and hopes voters will give him a second chance.
Perhaps surprisingly, they do. Weiner begins his campaign from a position of strength — people seem to love his ideas and fighting spirit and have forgiven his past errors. We all know what it’s like to have a slip-up on social media. Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s top aide, seem to have recovered from past tribulations. But then it happens again: more photos leak, more women come forward and this time, New Yorkers and the media aren’t so ready to forgive.
The characters of this drama provide ample entertainment, not only because of the problems they face, but also because of their reactions to them.
One of the most difficult aspects of documentary filmmaking is the problem of accessing the doc’s subjects. The incredible thing about Weiner is that, for some reason, Weiner agreed to let Steinberg and Kriegman behind the scenes of his mayoral race and into his personal life without censoring anything. The access given to the directors is so astounding that even Kriegman is driven to ask Weiner why they have been allowed into his life — a question which even Weiner doesn’t seem to know the answer to.
Weiner is a fascinating case study of the media’s ability to shape public opinion and infiltrate the privacy of political figures. It touches on Weiner’s narcissistic nature — perhaps a commentary on political ambition generally — but the protagonist is never unnecessarily demonized nor celebrated.
Weiner offers a sober look at Weiner’s fall from grace, not once, but twice, and moves at a fast pace. The characters of this drama provide ample entertainment, not only because of the problems they face, but also because of their reactions to them, which are often equally as cringeworthy as the events that catalyzed the scandals.
Ultimately, the film is about Weiner and his wiener, but it’s also much more than that. Weiner is an intense, insightful, and incredibly entertaining look at one of the most talked-about political scandals of our time.