July Theme Month

Weiner and the Surrealism of Modern Politics

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s 2016 political documentary Weiner is living proof that truth is stranger than fiction. The film follows New York Congressman Anthony Weiner through his fall from grace, his redemption as a serious mayoral contender, and finally through his collapse in the face of one of the most lurid sex scandals in modern politics. Kriegman and Steinberg manage to be real-time flies on the wall, watching one of the strangest stories in politics unfold before them. It is difficult to imagine that the directorial pair had any idea what they were getting into when they set out to make the documentary and the access afforded them by Weiner and his campaign allowed for tremendous levels of exposure.

As Weiner evolves, we learn how New Yorkers found it in themselves to forgive Anthony Weiner after his first sex scandal. His charming personality and seemingly genuine remorse is on full display. Weiner’s inherent charisma entices the viewer into a sense of security and familiarity even if they already know where the story is headed. We find ourselves rooting for our misguided protagonist, almost rooting for Anthony Weiner to be elected mayor of New York City.

If there is one character on whom to place the greatest sympathy in Weiner, it is the disgraced former politician’s wife, Huma Abedin. Abedin finds herself in the precarious position of trying to hold her marriage together in the face of very public infidelity while also having to face the judgement of the general public. Watching Abedin react to the events in the film can be painful. One truly feels each moment of her humiliation as she watches her husband deteriorate under public pressure and she is publicly dragged through the mud while learning about the most painful secrets her spouse has kept with her.

It is after Weiner’s second sex scandal breaks that the film becomes truly surreal. The mayoral candidate begins to crumble under the pressure of yet another devastating scandal. His charming veneer washes away and we see an unstable man unable to control his own emotions. We watch him get into a shouting match with a civilian over the allegations against him. We see him break down on camera, all the while very conscious of the crew filming his every move. The cartoonishly extreme turn of events is difficult to believe, even while watching it unfold.How Kriegman and Steinberg managed to capture this story from beginning to end eludes me. It is truly baffling that this film was allowed to be made given the absurd events that surround its subject. The idea that a politician with so many skeletons would allow a camera crew to record his weakest and most vulnerable moments makes Weiner one of the most memorable political documentaries of the 21st century, and a film that is constantly gut-wrenching even if the viewer has already lived the events at its core.

This piece is part of a series of writings published during July 2019 about documentaries. Documentaries can… examine the past as we’ve seen in Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner.
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Matt was introduced to classic films and TV at a very early age. He was brought up on a steady diet of Abbott and Costello features and classic Twilight Zone episodes. Like many young people, his teenage years included falling in love with directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, and thus being introduced to auteur sensibilities. Matt's favorite classic directors include Krzysztof Kieslowski, Billy Wilder, Jacques Demy, and Kenji Mizoguchi. His favorite working directors include The Coen Brothers, Kelly Reichardt, and Jim Jarmusch.

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