“Why did you let me film this?”
We hear the question, asked off-camera by the director of WEINER. It is directed at its subject, the man at the centre of two of the most salacious political scandals in recent American history. The question goes unanswered. Perhaps if Weiner thought about it for more than sixty seconds, he’d have an answer…then again, perhaps if Anthony Weiner thought about a lot of things for longer than sixty seconds, he wouldn’t have landed in these messes. Yes, messes – plural.
In 2011, Weiner was forced to resign as an American congressman after news broke of a sexting scandal (complete with digital photographs). Two years later, feeling as though the time was right to return to the political arena, Weiner threw his hat into the race for mayor of New York City. This documentary follows Weiner from the moment he announces his candidacy. It seems to be poised to capture a second act in an American life…until we remember what Fitzgerald said about that being possible.
Most of what happened to Weiner in his bid to return to office remains common knowledge just three years after it happened. What few seem to know, and what WEINER wants to expose (sorry), is the thought process behind a candidate who won’t give up a losing fight.
To that end, this documentary is a resounding success. It has the presence of mind to let the subject’s body language speak volumes when they aren’t saying a thing with their mouths. The film knows that if it holds on a shot five seconds longer than most, the level of discomfort will rise, and we’ll find answers in what is left unsaid. Other times, the film expertly cuts together what we see on television against what is happening before our eyes…painting one side as infotainment, and the other as tragic farce.
By the time the dust settles, we’re left with an amazingly talented spouse who says far more with action and posture than she ever does in word. We’re watching a city that is known for eating the weak absolutely feast on a man who can’t recognize that he’s the next entrée. We meet a jilted woman who continues to haunt a candidate just because she can. And we watch a man with good ideas not know when to say ‘when’ even though it is being hollered at him at every meeting, interview, and whistle-stop he goes to.
So why did Anthony Weiner agree to let all of this be filmed? Almost never is the camera team asked to step away, so it’s fair to assume there’s not much left unsaid. Nobody can say exactly why. At press time, Weiner still says he has not seen this film five months after it premiered, so perhaps he’s beginning to learn something. Or, perhaps some small part of him believes that martyrdom is the only way he can salvage himself, and that others learning from his mistake might be his best legacy for the American political spectrum.
It’s hard to say. What isn’t hard to say is that this film is one of the best documentaries of the festival, and of the year to date. It goes beyond the punditry that we have handed to our late-night political comedians and cuts to the core of a very flawed man. It’s a ballad of his catastrophic downfall, and a plea for those talented and hard-working people he let down.
WEINER plays at Hot Docs 2016 once more on Friday May 6th at The Bloor – 6:30pm