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Weiner, directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg is a behind-the-scenes documentary that captures the immediacy and pressure of an unfolding political scandal, but only scratches the surface of its namesake.
In 2013, former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner ran for Mayor of New York, a campaign that was ultimately undone by his second widely publicized sexting scandal, the first being the reason he resigned from Congress. The documentary focuses specifically on Weiner’ campaign for mayor and how the scandal cost him the election and put a huge strain on his family and his staff.
As a documentary, the most compelling thing about Weiner is how it captures the mounting pressure of a major campaign rocked by a highly publicized scandal. Thanks to exclusive behind-the-scenes access, we get to see exactly how all of the media attention affects Anthony Weiner both personally and professionally – at least in the moment.
The movie pays lip service to the possible reasons for Weiner’s behavior, such as acknowledging the possibility of an addiction, but for the most part, it ignores any meaningful exploration of his character in favor of showing us the minute-to-minute details of the situation as it unfolds.
One of the best moments in the movie involves a TV interview that Anthony Weiner does in a studio. He’s alone, only hearing what the other person is saying through an earpiece. The scene alternates between footage of the interview as it was presented, and footage of Weiner, alone in a studio, yelling at seemingly nothing. The following scene shows him watching the interview again online and trying to gauge how it went, asking his wife for her opinion.
That sequence perfectly highlights Weiner’s main strength and main weakness as a documentary. It’s fascinating to watch in the moment, but it lacks staying power. Zeroing in on the particulars of the campaign gives it clarity, but also makes it somewhat superfluous.
In the grand scheme of things, this is simply the story of a political scandal that derailed the career of a candidate for mayor. It’s interesting, but it’s not particularly memorable.
Perhaps a deeper focus on the extensive media attention the scandal received, or more interviews with people from Weiner’s staff or close circle of family and friends (the input of his wife Huma Abedin is sorely needed) or even a more detailed examination of his political stance would have given the documentary a stronger sense of identity.
For a movie named after Anthony Weiner, this film often feels like it’s providing audiences with little more than the cliff-notes version of the man, in favor of letting us know exactly how his campaign for mayor crumbled into pieces. It’s clear that he is a charismatic individual that is very passionate about what he does, but the scandal suggests some underlying issues that are left largely untouched.
It’s frustrating because it’s clear that there is a very interesting story to be told here, one that isn’t necessarily done justice by the way it’s approached.
Weiner is not a bad documentary and it’s certainly worth watching from a psychological perspective, but that comes at expense of being too self contained and narrow in its focus.