In light of recent news in The New York Times about top, Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin separating from her husband after yet another sexting scandal, here is a review of the documentary about Abedin’s husband, which was released theatrically in May and is now available on DVD and VOD. My review was originally published on June 3rd.
Anthony Weiner was a U.S. Congressman from New York who resigned in June 2011 after lying about sending sexual pictures of himself to women who wasn’t his wife, Huma Abedin, a political operative working for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Nearly two years later, he announced in April 2013 that he was going to run for mayor of New York City. This documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg follows the Congressman’s campaign for that office. What makes this movie incredible is that the filmmakers probably started around April having no clue what would happen a few months later.
In July of that same year, Weiner was exposed in another scandal of sending sexual pictures of himself through his smartphone to random women. Because Weiner decided not to drop out of the race, it’s compelling to watch him not avoid the issue like most politicians would but instead power right into and through it, not unlike President Bill Clinton decades prior. As such, it’s amazing to watch the rise and then utter collapse of this man, as he turns out to be not as lucky or as resourceful as President Clinton.
It’s great that the filmmakers got as much access as they did. It’s jaw-dropping that they maintained that access through the second scandal. At only one point do you hear Weiner dismiss the camera or tell them to get out, but even then, it’s only for a brief moment. He only once gets annoyed with the cameras being in close quarters through this equally embarrassing time when any normal person would have shut it down.
Toward the end, one of the filmmakers asks him on camera why is he allowing them to continue to shoot him, even through this embarrassing and difficult time that doesn’t always portray him in a positive light. Weiner’s inability to answer the question in that moment speaks to his lack of self-awareness, but it becomes obvious as the movie moves along that Weiner can act on emotion without considering fallout. He thrives on confrontations or charged interactions. He won’t hesitate to yell at people, whether it’s people in a bakery or cable TV hosts. He’s not necessarily an exhibitionist, but it’s a pretty, dumb question to ask the man who had nude pictures of himself online, including his erect penis put out there for the world to see, why he’s not more restrained or reserved when the cameras are on him.
The movie makes the argument though that if not for this scandal, Weiner more than likely would have won the mayoral race. His ability to debate and speak on the issues are incredible. His genuine empathy and passion for fighting for his constituents and helping the people he represents are also incredible. He’s extremely smart and extremely charming, and showing people’s reactions to him in meetings or during parades is proof that the public really loved him.
A lot of the humor in this movie comes from the archived, media clips. Some are just regular news reports reading the details, which are inherently funny. Other clips are from comedy shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher or even Howard Stern’s radio show. Weiner himself is a funny guy. Beyond his name, he has some wit and is very personable.
However, there are interesting people who emerge in this film who also provide a dose of humor. One of which is Weiner’s campaign aide named Andrew Noh, the man with the plan, as I’ve dubbed him. He’s so-called because of what is revealed as his McDonald’s plan. Others include his Communications Director, Barbara Morgan, as well as other people in his staff.
The person who draws the most fascination though is Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin. She doesn’t verbally say much in the film. Yet, she communicates a ton. The filmmakers capture so many of her quiet, facial expressions as she’s in the room hearing and experiencing everything that occurs in the summer 2013. Those facial expressions stand as probably some of the best reaction shots I’ve ever seen or have ever been edited in a documentary in a while, if in history.
It’s interesting that this movie comes in the wake of the finale to the CBS series The Good Wife. That show was a critically-acclaimed examination of a woman who decides to stand beside her husband, a politician who gets into a sex scandal. The difference is that Weiner never broke the law or even cheated on his wife physically. He went too far in his flirtations and this millennial idea of sexting, or phone sex. Yet, Abedin’s reaction shots are as great as all of Emmy-winner Julianna Marguiles’ performance in The Good Wife.
The movie is still very much about the husband and the movie is still very much told from his point-of-view. Nonetheless, it still provides her perspective in punctuated ways. Whether one agrees with the notion that what Weiner did made him unworthy to be in office, that doesn’t matter. This film either way stands as a great character study and great insight into a political marriage.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some sexual material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.