Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner embodies the amalgamation of sex, technology, and celebrity culture that has infected all aspects of American life. Weiner, who is rarely without a smartphone in Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s unsettling documentary, cannot fathom an off-screen existence. Hence his decision allowing a camera crew behind-the-scenes access to his disastrous campaign for New York City mayor in 2013. Despite Weiner’s self-pitying portrait of himself as victim of a malicious media, he continues to court the press.
Weiner’s constituents seem ready to forgive and forget as his mayoral campaign begins. Weiner is shown marching at the front of a Gay Pride parade and basking in the attention. A female voter states, “We don’t care about the personal garbage. We want to hear about the issues.” Weiner’s lead in the polls, however, quickly evaporates when it is revealed that, yet again, he has been exchanging sexually suggestive pictures and texts over the internet. His online alias, “Carlos Danger”, is an additional source of derision.
Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife and close advisor to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, initially expresses support for her husband. She engages in passive-aggressive behavior, though, refusing to appear in a television ad with Weiner and declining to vote with him. After “Weiner” was released in May, a third round of sexting photographs surfaced; including one photo in which Abedin and Weiner’s young son appeared. Abedin has subsequently filed for divorce.
Sydney Leathers, one of Weiner’s sexting partners, is featured in the documentary. She exploits her fifteen minutes of fame by making a sex video and appearing on the Howard Stern show. Leathers also attempts to ambush Weiner at the site of his concession speech. Weiner then has to make a humiliating run through a McDonald’s restaurant to avoid her. Since politicians are no longer viewed as public servants, but celebrities, women like Leathers are willing to act as sycophants in order to achieve their own celebrity status.
Filmmakers Kriegman and Steinberg use upbeat, snappy music over the opening and closing credits, in what I assume is an ironic comment on their subject matter. There is nothing amusing, however, about an elected official who reveals himself to be an immature, sex-starved, publicity hound. Weiner is not given to serious self-reflection, and the filmmakers remain largely silent regarding his extra-marital entanglements. One can guess that Weiner shares the view of the current Republican presidential candidate; when you are a star, you can do anything.
“Weiner” was originally released in 2016. The film is rated R for language. Available on DVD and Amazon Video, I watched the film at my own expense.