YOU DO WONDER WHAT sort of man endures with so little concern two major public scandals, one of which ends his political career for good, and, equally, what sort of man, his face already a regular vision in the newspapers, invites a documentary film crew to follow his campaign for the mayorship of New York City. This is the wholly unintentional theme of Weiner, the new documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg.
Anthony Weiner was a seven-time congressman and rising star in the Democratic Party with a penchant for delivering slightly hysterical public denunciations of his political counterparts when he felt the situation merited. The first and most famous time Weiner did this was when he chastised the GOP for voting against a plan to remunerate the firefighters involved in the 9/11 rescue efforts.
Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after photographs of his bulging underwear appeared on Twitter, but returned to politics only two years later to run in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City. This is where the film begins. Weiner is hardly the first public figure to be the subject of a sex scandal, and New Yorkers are willing to give him a second chance. And then, while at or near the top of a long list of candidates in the polls, the news of the second scandal breaks.
The real victim in this ungodly mess is Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Hillary Clinton and a respected political figure in her own right: some of Weiner’s supporters go as far as to say that they voted for him because he was a sort of proxy for her.
Huma stands by Weiner throughout, and though you sense that the marriage has more to do with the mutual benefit it has to their political careers than to their loving devotion to each other, her husband’s indiscretions clearly take their toll. There is a revealing public moment when Huma speaks to the press after Weiner’s second almighty fuck-up and fails despite her words of support to conceal her abject misery. There are also a string of scenes, filmed in the wake of the second scandal, during which Huma looks more confused that anything that her husband doesn’t seem all that bothered. And that brings us back to the original question.
I am hesitant to use so readily that psychological diagnosis of the day, psychopath, to describe Weiner, though you do suspect he must be on the spectrum somewhere. And I am not the first person to raise the possibility. The signs, as they say, are all there. He is verbose and charismatic, exhibitionistic, and a liar, and he seems not to learn at all from his past mistakes. (Incidentally, the New York Post reports that Weiner has been involved in a third sexting scandal, after which Huma finally decided, very understandably, that enough was enough.)
In any case, Weiner is nothing if not highly watchable. In one scene he might be getting into shouting matches in bakeries; in the next he might be running down New York streets brandishing the Pride flag or giving the press the finger. Consequently Kriegman and Steinberg have very little to do except hold the camera, sit back, and wait for the next dramatic outburst. Weiner is a hilarious, outrageous and fascinating look at a political campaign in full meltdown and at the centre of it all, a man who just does not know when to stop.