Anthony Weiner is already a punch-line based on his last name. He was a rare political figure, having served as a US Congressman from 1999 to 2011, in that he took forceful stands against his Republican counter-parts and was not afraid of anybody, or anything. He was an up-and-coming leader of the Democratic Party and was on the fast track to bigger and better things. All of this, and he was popular to boot, never having received less than 59% of the vote in any of his seven bids for re-election to Congress. But the higher the rise the harder the fall. In 2011, a “sex-ting” scandal forced his resignation from office. For comedians, the idea that a married Congressman named Weiner would be caught up in a scandal that involved him sending photos of his…weiner…to several other women online, was heaven-sent comedic gold. But Weiner was not done with politics. In the fascinating documentary, Weiner (opening today), a behind-the-scenes camera crew follows Anthony Weiner through his unsuccessful bid to become the Mayor of New York City, a bid that – you guessed it – ended in even more scandal.
Not only is Weiner’s story compelling, its tragic…but not for the reasons you might be thinking. Sure, he was a political figure who fell from grace, and his moralistic judgment led to a severe lack of trust from his voters. But more interesting is how his actions – while admittedly wrong – were not illegal in any way. He did not engage in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, he did nothing to break the law. And if his wife – political insider and aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin – forgave him for what he did, so why not the public? This documentary not only gives us an inside glimpse of a political campaign in action, it showcases just how little substance the masses care or know about. Did Weiner’s political stances on policy lead to him receiving less than 5% of the vote in the Mayoral election? The hard truth is that Weiner the political leader was never able to get out of the shadow of Weiner the easy comedic target.
But while most documentaries would be criticized for not really showing us more than what we already know about its subject, this one makes this quandary part of the story. Here is a guy who is trying desperately to be an open-book (why else would he allow any of this to be filmed for a documentary?), but the closer we get to Anthony Weiner, the less we really learn about what makes him tick. He doesn’t quite address what was going on his mind…is he a sexual deviant? A man trapped in an unhappy marriage? He just moves forward with business as usual, and he has a real desire – an obsession – about making a difference on the socio-political landscape. He just can’t quite believe that sending a “dick pic” would erase all of the good that he had done in the past, or all of the good that he still might have done in the future.
In the documentary, Weiner even admits that this documentary will probably get sucked into the “vortex” of the media, where the headlines and the punch-lines are more important than what lies beneath. He may be right. But the more films like Weiner that shed a light on the distracted populace that makes up this country – and the hype-machine that is the American media – the better the chance that we may one day have an awakening. With the danger facing this upcoming US election, a movie based on “Carlos Danger” (Weiner’s online alias) couldn’t have come at a better time.