I watched this documentary on Monday night, after Anthony Weiner’s final on-line transgression resulted in the announcement of his separation from his wife, Hillary Clinton handler and confidante Huma Abedin. The documentary shadows Weiner during his run for the New York City mayoralty, a run he made after resigning from Congress when he was busted for sending a dick pick to a young girl. The ignominy of that act was exacerbated by the facts of Weiner’s lying about the incident (he was hacked, it might not be his junk, forces opposed to him were at play, “”Maybe it did start being a photo of mine and now looks something different or maybe it is from another account”) and his unfortunate name.
But come back he did, and as relayed by the documentarians, he returned with verve and passion. Until he got busted again, this time sexting under the nom de plume “Carlos Danger” with a sad, grasping, soon-to-be porn star named Sydney Leathers (the scandal is notable as much for its bizarre nature as the silly names of its participants). This unfolds before our very eyes, and it is often difficult to watch. After this second humiliating revelation, Weiner opts for an aggressive, charge forward “this is what we do“ approach, as if to keep moving is to delay facing up to the consequences of his actions. But you can see him harden and crack, in contentious interviews and encounters with voters. Abedin, a beautiful, stoic woman, also becomes more brittle, but she retreats inward. When the camera catches her watching Weiner desperately prattle on, a look not so much of disgust as disbelief is on her face. The campaign staff, all young and committed to Weiner, are rattled, and you feel for their predicament.
The documentary also illuminates a few other aspects of this entire farce that merit comment. First, even with all the drama and pain of Weiner’s relationship with Abedin, there is an intimacy between the two that is undeniable, making this national joke a bit harder to laugh at. The revelation of real love in what you cynically presume is a marriage of convenience is quite unexpected. Additionally, Weiner and Abedin evince a certain cynicism of their own in the way they operate politically. It seems perfectly natural to them when Weiner monitors her fundraising calls to friends or uses their child as a shield-in-a-stroller, or she engages in strategic musings to keep his campaign afloat. But it feels grubby and sad. Also, the media comes off as nothing short of vile. Their glee and faux moralizing actually engenders sympathy for Weiner, which, given his hubris and recklessness, would seem impossible. When Weiner becomes unspooled after being baited by the likes of MSNBC dimwit Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s hard to determine who comes off worse. At least, for me and Weiner. There is a charming moment when Weiner looks back at Abedin after re-watching his interview with O’Donnell and imploringly asks who got the worst of it. She replies unequivocally that Weiner was loser of the exchange, a fact he can’t quite grasp. Frankly, to me, it was a close call, but the unctuous O’Donnell was not running for office. The crazed Weiner was.
Ultimately, what I liked most about the documentary is it didn’t portray Weiner as tragedy. He is not presented as some promising wunderkind undone by his excesses and a vicious press corps. While in post-campaign crater sit-down interviews with the filmmakers, Weiner looks beaten, emaciated, like a recently released hostage . . .
. . . sad as he looks, you don’t feel that something grand has been lost. He’s just a guy with a persistent fetish in the wrong business.