“The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” This quote from public intellectual Marshall McLuhan fittingly opens the documentary Weiner
— a funny, thoughtful, poignant portrait of a politician whose name became synonymous with his seedy private life.
We all know the punchline of Anthony Weiner’s career. In 2011, his history of sexting surfaced, along with the now-infamous picture of his bulging underpants, which he accidentally sent to 45,000 followers on Twitter.
Weiner resigned from Congress that same year, focusing on rebuilding his reputation as well as winning back the trust of his wife, Huma Abedin. The film catches up with him in 2013, when he took the enormous risk of running for mayor of New York.
First-time filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman follow Weiner like storm chasers, never losing sight of the wreckage he leaves in his path. Their cameras linger on his wife as he makes one speech after another about his mistakes and his search for redemption. We see the deeply challenging complexity of her emotions — the potent blend of pride, hope, humiliation and fear. At one point, Kriegman breaks his silence behind the camera and asks how she is feeling. A faint smile spreads across her face — the smile of a public face who’s tired of displaying artificial happiness. “I’m living in a nightmare,” she says bluntly.
The film isn’t all doom and gloom though. Part of the fun lies in watching Weiner toss his manners aside and stand up to naysayers like a Brooklyn brute. “You’re a tough guy now, huh? What are you going to do to me, Grandpa?” Weiner asks when one of his opponents confronts him in the midst of the mayoral race. He never backs down.
We drool over films like this for the same reason we get swept away by The Real Housewives
or American Idol
. Viewers have a compulsive need to see people get embarrassed and then pick themselves up. We like to see people publicly experiencing our private nightmares and waking up from them. This film certainly scratches that itch to witness someone stubbornly running an emotional gamut — from disgrace to triumph.
We all make mistakes. But we all don’t fight to make up for them. Weiner
is about a guy who does. Near the end of the documentary, he worries that the film won’t change anything, that he’ll remain a joke. Maybe he will for a lot of people. But I didn’t walk out of the theater shaking my head in shame. I left feeling inspired and proud of the guy.
is the kind of film we need right now — a reminder of the vulnerability beneath politicians’ public veneer, an example of how they are just like the rest of us. You want a warts-and-all portrait? You want a painful yet uplifting and unforgettable drama? Look no further. This is one of the best films of the year.