The American politician Anthony Weiner was at the centre of
one of the most memorable scandals of recent years, and this poses a problem
for the documentary maker. How can something that received so much media
attention be given a fresh perspective? The answer, provided by directors Josh
Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, is to treat that media attention as part of their
The ostensible focuses of their documentary Weiner are the juicy indignities
suffered (and largely instigated) by Weiner himself: how the explicit photos he
sent to multiple women were leaked to the Internet, how they resurfaced as he
was running for mayor of New York, and how his lies about them threatened both
his campaign and his credibility.
But Weiner also
subtly examines this juiciness and our appetite for it. It is a film about a
very modern kind of scandal, and the very modern response to it. It is, at
least in part, a film about media: news media, social media, old media, new
Anthony Weiner, trying to send a photo of his penis to
someone (not his wife), accidentally uploaded it to Twitter. This, during his
mayoral campaign, is all that the newspapers and news programmes wanted to talk
about. Weiner’s attempt at career rehabilitation involved letting a film crew
into all areas of his life. His attempt to fix his mortifying self-exposure
involved further self-exposure.
At times, Weiner
is reminiscent of the Channel 4/Netflix series Black Mirror: it feels like a warning about the insidious
distorting effects of a life lived through screen technology.
As a caution on this issue, Weiner is timely; as a carefully constructed portrait of haywire
masculinity, it is timeless.
In one scene, a young political campaigner compares Weiner’s
indiscretions to the Lewinsky scandal, but explains that his mother thinks
differently: ‘She says, “Bill [Clinton] is different”.’ Both the campaigner and
his mother are, in different ways, correct.
Sinewy, wiry, tightly wound, in control of his high energy
only half the time, Anthony Wiener is nothing like the smooth, drawling,
puffy-faced Clinton. And the specifics of his downfall could only have happened
in this decade. But as a hot-headed liberal, a virile and likeable narcissist
somehow both honourable and mendacious, Anthony is the same abiding and endlessly
compelling male type as Bill: less a hopeless schmuck than a semi-ridiculous
The results are far more interesting than if he were
entirely without self-awareness – the cracks in his awareness are all the more
fascinating – and his self-diagnosed ‘unlimited ability to fuck things up’ is
all the more agonising.
As horribly watchable as Anthony Weiner is, it still takes great
skill to translate his particular qualities to screen. Weiner is all the more impressive for doing this without
partisanship or judgement. Kriegman and Steinberg let the footage do the
talking, relying on excellent camera work and snappy editing. The film’s jokes
feel subtle and integral to the subject, unlike the thudding punchlines of a
Michael Moore documentary, and the tragic aspects are never milked for effect.
Excruciating and hilarious, Weiner is a masterclass in how to make an intelligent documentary.
|What||Weiner film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
08 Jul 16 – 08 Sep 16, Times may vary according to cinema
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|