Weiner is an unfortunate name. For the politician who owns it, he’s had an even more unfortunate life; a while after Anthony Weiner first came to prominence thanks to a video of him heatedly tackling his GOP colleagues in 2010, in a wincingly poetic sweep of irony, a photo of his own Anthony W. leaked and also went viral. His political career potentially in tatters, he didn’t let the sex scandal prove to be a setback for him; he and his wife Huma Abedin, herself an advisor to Hillary Clinton, and perhaps the most miraculously forgiving woman in history, teamed together for Anthony to run for mayor of New York.
Huma is quite clearly the hero, not Anthony, the one person in the entire documentary who tries to both forgive and understand, unconditionally.
First and foremost, Weiner feels like satire. The absurd in-between moments that litter shows like Veep and In the Loop, useful grace notes that remind us that we are indeed watching fiction, are in abundance throughout Weiner’s entire campaign. The tale that is spun is ultimately of one man’s redemption, not just in in the public eye but in the eyes of Huma – but Anthony is Buster Keaton given a politician’s shirt and tie, trying to play the straight man for once but never managing to get over the public’s perception of his slapstick errors. While his transgressions are unfortunate – and all too human – we can’t help but care about Anthony. That’s the film’s greatest strength, and biggest surprise. It’ll frequently make you burst out laughing, but the tender core is still there, and even when he has egg on his face (a circumstance that’s a quite literal danger for politicians) he’s constantly looking forward, his eyes not diverted by the noise that follows him everywhere. Why hasn’t he quit yet? Perhaps he savours confrontations, even when they concern his namesake – but more likely, he’s of the opinion that he can still give something back to the world, besides explicit text messages.
Weiner also moves with the pace of a true thriller; the West Wing trope of walking and talking, before walking and talking some more, makes sure that the blood of politics is firmly pumping through this tremendously entertaining documentary, and the busy hub of activity that Anthony finds himself at the centre of. If there are any weaknesses with the film, it’s that Huma has glaringly few lines to speak – but her presence in the background, with the camera catching the most complex expressions running the gamut on her face, works much to her advantage. The words she doesn’t utter speak volumes. Huma is quite clearly the hero, not Anthony, the one person in the entire documentary who tries to both forgive and understand, unconditionally. In the shaky moral framework of a mayoral race, she’s the sturdy emotional core – and she is our way inside, our access point for understanding that beating hearts do exist inside the higher-ups we elect to be our leaders. Weiner the man tells us that his is in the right place; Weiner the movie shows us. With unprecedented access, eye-opening emotional complexity, and hilarity so loud as to nearly bring the house down, this is the best doc we have yet to allow us to understand the modern age of politics.
Weiner is out now.