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November 11, 2016

Weiner (2016)
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

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Synopsis: Controversial Democratic politician, Anthony Weiner, runs for office in the New York mayoral elections of 2013.

Review: Easily one of the finest and most gripping films for many a year, Weiner’s sheer brilliance comes from the fact that its very medium and apparatus – the “fly on the wall” documentary – not only outs the story but, in a sense, becomes the story. Following controversial Democratic politician, Anthony Weiner, as he hits the New York mayoral campaign trail in 2013 (this after having resigned from Congress two years previously for a highly controversial “sexting” scandal), filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg chance upon pure serendipitous gold dust with Weiner’s incredible frankness and the staggering levels of access he offered, alongside the embarrassing sexting skeletons which return to haunt him at the very same time.

Thus, Weiner almost develops into a classical tragedy. It’s an overused soundbite to ascribe Shakespearian characteristics to troubled public figures, but Weiner’s rise and fall is straight from that lineage. Weiner’s dichotomy of pure political brilliance versus a deeply flawed personality is characterised straight away in a stunning opening montage where Weiner is engaged in a firebrand, pulverising take-down of one of his politician opponents in the House of Representatives against his subsequent, humiliating downfall.

Adding to the story’s tragic ingredients is Huma Abedin – Weiner’s prized wife who had been a Hillary Clinton staffer and confidante, and someone who evidently aligned herself with Weiner when he was in the political ascendancy. The documentary captures exquisitely and to an absolute T the growing sense of stunned disbelief as Abedin begins to conscience the sheer squalor of Weiner’s shattered political ambitions and the increasingly virile and pathetic way that he rails against that. The beauty of the film’s representation of the Weiner-Abedin subplot is that a fiction film couldn’t have captured it any better – it really is a by-product of the sheer alchemy of skilled (and fortuitous) documentary filmmaking.

Befitting the documentary’s assured sense of its story is that, although Weiner has become a byword for salacious smut and mockery (the surname itself doesn’t help), a sense of begrudging admiration for the man’s imperturbability and that strangely American quality of doughty optimism is transmitted. A salient point also emerges that a sensationalist media and public won’t let Weiner forget what are essentially only personal peccadilloes and vices, and it’s a real shame that a genuinely authentic and passionate voice for the lower/middle-classes in American politics has been lost to what amounts to a silly scandal. (November 2016)

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