Weiner

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Anthony Weiner in Weiner - with unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner's New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and offers an unfiltered look at how much today's politics is driven by an appetite for spectacle.
"He seemingly lets the camera into almost every nook and cranny, so that a picture emerges of not only him but the media goldfish bowl people like him inhabit."

This sprightly, immersive documentary from first-time feature documentarians Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman begins with a quote from Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan, often considered the father of media studies (some might say, a mixed legacy): "The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers."

If New York politician Anthony Weiner had been born in Britain, he might just have got away with it - but in America his name with its 'sausage' connotations is an open goal for tabloid headline writers. And that was before the married Democrat became embroiled in a sexting scandal, which saw him send a sexually explicit snap of himself to a woman via Twitter. Amazingly, despite all of this, his wife Huma Abedin - a high-flying politician herself and vice-chair of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign - forgave him and agreed, alongside her husband to let Steinberg and Kriegman follow him during his 2013 NYC mayoral campaign. After all, he'd been through all three rings of the media circus, what could possibly go wrong?

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Certainly, not much goes wrong from a filmmaking perspective. Weiner is a dynamic politician who throws himself into campaigning with the sort of full tilt that comes from an ego that is clearly telling him, yes, I can be the phoenix not the ashes. He seemingly lets the camera into almost every nook and cranny, so that a picture emerges of not only him but the media goldfish bowl people like him inhabit. Frequently he and his staffers utter lines that would slot straight into BBC satire The Thick Of It, including: "We're executing the McDonald's plan" - unsurprisingly, not a Big Mac and fries - and, of Pineapple, a woman embroiled in his scandal, "It's my job to make sure she f***ing fails at life today".

As a second scandal surrounding Weiner's laughable online alter ego "Carlos Danger" breaks, the silences become even more telling, with Abedin, in particular, dealing in the sort of "I'll-kill-you-later" glances that could be used as an intercontinental weapon. Weiner treats the film as a part-confessional but even he finds himself noticeably lost for words at one-stage and, in one of the few moments cracks begin to show, he asks Kriegman, who has just posed a question, "Isn't the point of a fly-on-the-wall documentary that the fly doesn't talk?" Abedin, meanwhile, is the flipside, retaining a steely silence for the most part, setting Weiner's bull in a china shop approach to politics in glorious relief.

Steinberg and Kriegman do an excellent job, economically introducing those of us unfamiliar with Weiner to him and quickly plunging us into his daily madness. It's hard to emerge from the film without a grudging respect for his sheer brass neck, an amazement at Abedin's tolerance levels and, best of all, a fascinating insight into what the experience of being in the eye of a media storm feels like.

Reviewed on: 10 May 2016
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Documentary about mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.
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Director: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Writer: Eli B Despres, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Year: 2016

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US


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