Access might not be power — maybe a half-step from power. But it’s still craved, commoditized and sold.
“Weiner,” a political documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg on the second and final mayoral campaign by Anthony Weiner in New York City, is a solid example of how access — in the cinematic sense — evolves when it hits the fan.
Witness the sext-scandalized former member of Congress grumble on the phone: “Sh-t. This is the worst. This is the worst,” he mumbles. “Doing a documentary on my scandal.” Bet you didn’t expect the affable ex-congressman to be seen bitterly grumbling like Robert Durst in a bathroom stall.
Then again, should anything shock or surprise us when it comes to Anthony Wiener?
The man is a dynamo. He’ll pick a fight on MSNBC and beam with pleasure at being seen as a firebrand and jerk. It’s in his nature to fist-bump strangers in the street, or march in each and every niche pride day the Big Apple has. He’s very outgoing, if you hadn’t noticed. And there are more than a few who love him for it, the random onlookers who chant to him on the street, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Just as crucial to our understanding of Weiner — through his indomitable spirit and how often it’s tested by his public record of marital oath-breaking — is wife Huma Abedin, the strong, silent type in the relationship. Watch closely enough and you begin to understand that his run for NYC mayor is as much about him as it’s Abedin trying to restore their marriage and their place in the Democratic political hierarchy.
And if you’re hoping this intimate portrait of Abedin may yield some insight on her work with Hillary Clinton? Sorry, you’ll have to connect those dots yourself. “Weiner” doesn’t even bother to explore the curiosity that is Bill Clinton — both cautionary tale and role model for the likes of Weiner, a unique, towering figure in the parlance of American sex scandals.
But “Weiner” is powerful because it focuses on the man and those closest to him as their world falls apart a second time, and what it reveals about them: How he uses the euphemism “that bad thing” for the hell of getting caught. How he’s confident (or foolish) enough to recount a Rodney Dangerfield joke about needing more than one woman. How he begins to punch back at his weakest moment in the polls, inflaming a moment of “meltdown” that again leaves Weiner proud of the bad press.
Picture Weiner, as he often does, watching news coverage of himself after he’s made an inglorious exit from a campaign that became a global punchline. Abdein — long suffering yet willful — sits in the dining room, cutting her pizza with fork and knife; she may as well be on another continent in that moment, or at least on another campaign. It’s the climax of all climaxes for Weiner — at this point, you had to know the puns are unavoidable.
And Kriegman — co-director, camera man and, most importantly, one-time chief of staff to Weiner during his stint in Congress — asks a very important question: “Why have you let me film this?” Weiner’s answer is not nearly as compelling or even seemingly honest as what you see from him throughout a campaign where he desperately tries to promote issues rather than rehash scandal.
And those scandals? A series of curated clips of TV satirists does the talking: Colbert. Oliver. Maher. A lot of talking, in fact. You get the sense that the broadcast and internet narratives really do take on a life of their own in the world of Kriegman and Weiner. While disposable and an easy laugh for us, it’s a miracle they are able to acknowledge the comedy of this tragedy, because the players take it very seriously.
“Weiner” is not deeply revelatory despite yielding an uncannily close look into a campaign and, to a lesser extent, a marriage shaped largely for the nation by talking heads. Was it born out of a calculated desire for a new narrative? Maybe, but the miracle of documentary and cinema as a whole is that unexpected things happen.
“Weiner” is rated R. Running time: One hour, 36 minutes. Three and a half stars out of five. Opens Friday at the Mayan.