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 subject.
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 media.
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 anti-hero.
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|