Weiner would be valuable enough solely for serendipity, the kind of right time/right place documentary that only fate could’ve planned. For me and probably most non-New Yorkers, Anthony Weiner’s wiener scandal (I feel like this whole fiasco may have been avoided if only he’d just pronounced his name “Why-ner,” like every other Weiner I’ve ever met) was one of those stories I didn’t fully understand. I understood enough to get the jokes, but not enough to know why people were so angry. And just when the whole thing had finally died down, it turns out directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg had been there filming him the whole time. Talk about a hook. Finally, a chance for some perspective.
It turns out, Weiner is about a lot more than serendipity. I went in expecting to see a movie that explained what’s wrong with Anthony Weiner and instead saw a movie about our fickle and shifting expectations of politicians.
Even if you think he’s a monster, Anthony Weiner seems to be exactly the kind of monster our political system creates — the sort of needy attention whore you have to be if you want to succeed. The qualities for which people come to hate him — passion, theatricality, a desperate need for both attention and having the last word — are exactly what made him popular in the first place. And eventually the public abandons him in favor of exactly the kind of dull milquetoast he was supposed to be the antidote to (or at least that’s how the movie depicts it). Who’s the star of the Greek tragedy here, Anthony Weiner or the people of New York?
The film opens with the famous YouTube clip of Anthony Weiner grandstanding, with near psychotic intensity, on the floor of Congress, over Republicans refusing to vote on a bill to fund healthcare for 9/11 first responders. The Republicans try to shout him down, and it just pisses him off even more. It’s like a scene from Crimson Tide. We see politicians in other countries looking this passionate, but rarely ours. Finally! We think. A liberal who fights back! We’d become so accustomed to hectoring sacks of oatmeal like Joe Lieberman that it was almost a religious experience seeing someone with some blood in his veins. It makes him a star. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s married to Huma Abedin, a Clinton campaign strategist so indispensable that Hillary Clinton calls her a second daughter.
And then he accidentally tweets a picture of his embonered underpants, and it all goes down in flames. He resigns in disgrace, because we can’t very well have our political leaders having boners, and sending pictures of their boners, and having names synonymous with boners, now can we?
Weiner has already encapsulated the inherent hypocrisy of politics, and that’s just the prologue. We want our politicians to be vibrant and sexy and the good ones naturally feed on that. But if they ever reveal the sexual pleasure they derive from the political stage, they’re ruined. Is Weiner’s sin deviancy or just bad bullsh*tting? Thomas Jefferson owned human chattel while writing “all men are created equal,” but he also never accidentally tweeted some naked pictures of his slaves in the middle of the Continental Congress. Then again, it’s not as if Anthony Weiner campaigned on a platform of outlawing dick pics, or understanding Twitter.
The non-flashback portion of Weiner begins with Anthony Weiner’s comeback bid, a run for the mayorship of New York. It’s also a revealing look at the nuts and bolts of a political campaign, which mostly seems to involve checking polls and cold calling rich people to beg for money. Before you can whore yourself out to the voters, you have to whore yourself out for the money you need to get in front of the voters.