Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sundance ’16: Weiner

During the 2013 New York City municipal primary, Democrats faced the surreal prospect of nominating Anthony Weiner for mayor and Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer for comptroller. Ultimately, neither political comeback came to pass, but the spectacle of Weiner’s implosion will be hard to live down. Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg documented it all, fly-on-the-wall style in Weiner, which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

We all know the essentials: Anthony Weiner, sexting, “Carlos Danger,” and his femme fatale, Sydney Leathers. Kriegman & Steinberg start their film after the first wave of scandal had subsided. They give nutshell recap of Sexting Part 1, including Weiner’s admitted lie that his Twitter account had been hacked, but they neglect to mention the late Andrew Breitbart’s role saving the infamous tweets and holding Weiner accountable.

Regardless, Weiner is tanned, rested, and ready to run for mayor with the blessing of his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Initially, Weiner was riding high in the polls, until the second sexting shoe dropped. That would be Leathers, the media-chasing future porn star. It was really a time line issue that he handled remarkably badly.

Somehow, Kriegman & Steinberg’s footage humanizes and damns Weiner simultaneously. There is no question the press opted for the low road at every juncture. It is impossible not to sympathize with him, especially when we see him doting on his young son. Nevertheless, the once-and-future power couple’s ill-concealed ambition is somewhat unseemly. More problematic, it becomes obvious in the third act Weiner lost track of which lies he told, forcing him to have grossly embarrassing conversations with his staff in order to reconcile his latest statements with past claims. Clearly, just telling the truth was no longer an option.

Arguably, Kriegman & Steinberg sort of bury the lede when they leave reports of a Hilary ultimatum forcing Abedin to choose between her husband and her role in the Clinton presidential campaign dangling unresolved. However, Abedin’s subsequent disengagement from Weiner’s campaign certainly makes you wonder.

Despite their obvious political sympathies, Kriegman & Steinberg never protect Weiner from himself. Watching this film must be a humbling experience for him. Frankly, in the wrap-up interview he seems not just chastened, but broken. Having the doc in the public record should preclude any further comeback campaigns, but it also engenders sympathy for his Shakespearean fall from grace. Engrossing like a train-wreck, Weiner is recommended for political junkies when it screens again this Thursday (1/28) and Saturday (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.