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Arts & Life

'Weiner' Is As Unflinching, As It Is Suprising For Its Behind The Scenes Access

Courtesy IFC Films

Known for his fiery liberalism, Anthony Weiner was a seven-term congressman from New York who suddenly got famous for something else. It came to light that Weiner liked to send out sexually provocative messages and photos on his phone. The one that did the most damage was a frontal picture of his underpants, with him inside.

As seems to happen when anyone gets infamous, there’s a documentary film about Anthony Weiner, which raises many more questions than it answers.

That’s a good thing, because it’s hard to imagine answers for a phenomenon like this man, who seems to contain more than his share of the riddles of the society we have created for ourselves. As told by filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the Weiner story brings up questions about narcissism, the technology that feeds and exploits it, the conflict between public and private life, hypocrisy (of course), and the unavoidable question of why we human beings find Anthony Weiner so interesting in the first place.

The most telling part of Weiner is that he allowed Kriegman and Steinberg to make the picture at all, that he wants to show his personal life to the world. Mostly an observational documentary, it watches Weiner without much interference. It’s astonishing to see just how much access to private moments Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, a key aide to Hillary Clinton, gave to the filmmakers – shots of Weiner and his young son, moments between Weiner and his wife that you might think they would not want shown to the public. At one point, Weiner asks his staff to leave the room, but lets the filmmakers stay. During another grim episode, Abedin asks her husband why he’s laughing at a particular bit of bad news, in just the way that couples would not like to shown to the world. You feel embarrassed for him.

Soon after the scandal broke in 2011, Weiner resigned from Congress, but in 2013 he ran for mayor of New York. Amazingly, his campaign was doing well, until the news broke that Weiner had continued sexting in ever more explicit ways well after he’d said he’d stopped.

Anthony Weiner is a very smart guy, and his political insights can be uncannily sharp. At the same time, his blindness to his own situation is ineffable. He explains his own stupidities well; he makes the case that he has really harmed no one, that his private life is a matter only for him and his wife. What he says is true, of course, but he never seems to comprehend that once private life becomes public, it is no longer private. This man, who served nearly 14 years in Congress, somehow cannot understand the hypocrisy of the public -- that the public expects a different morality from celebrities and elected officials than it expects from itself. What Weiner really doesn’t see is that while the public may forgive one transgression, and possibly a second, the electorate hates being lied to; making that second episode unforgivable.

Weiner’s capacity for separating what he does from what he thinks he does is phenomenal. In the later part of his run for mayor of New York, when he would obviously come in last in the primary, he visits a kosher bakery. As he’s leaving, a man calls him a scumbag. Weiner fires back with a 14-year-old’s response. He’s ready to fight the guy. Another man looks to the camera and says, “Why didn’t he walk away? He was doing well.” That could be Anthony Weiner’s story.

Well into the documentary, Sydney Leathers, the woman Weiner sexted with the most, comments on her disappointment at getting to know this side of a man who first attracted her with his savvy politics. She says, “Don’t meet your heroes.” It’s a fundamental observation.

Why should it matter if a good legislator spends some off-camera hours doing what Weiner did? Neither the film nor the audience can answer that one.

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