It’s no easy feat to make a compelling documentary about a story everyone has followed in the press or online. When everyone knows the ending, a filmmaker has to work to make their audience care about the beginning and the middle.
In Weiner, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary about Anthony Weiner’s disastrous run for mayor of New York City, the feat is accomplished through astounding access to true human drama.
Recovering from the 2011 sexting scandal that lead to his resignation from congress, Weiner ran for mayor in 2013, only to have his candidacy ended by a second sexting scandal (a third such scandal made headlines last month).
Kriegman and Steinberg’s film barrels forward with propulsive energy. They leave time for quiet moments when necessary, but there aren’t many quiet moments in a mayoral campaign. What there’s plenty of is the raw humanity of a team of people realizing that, when the stakes are at their highest, everything is crumbling around them.
While the focus is on Weiner and his wife, Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, Weiner is as much about social media and the 24-hour news cycle as it is about campaigns or scandals. The film feels like a collage of the TVs, computers and smartphones through which 21st century news addicts view the world. Its setting is as much Twitter as it is New York.
The directors strike a terrific balance between the political and the personal. We see the personal toll on Weiner and Abedin but never lose sight of the conversation swirling around them. People exploit the controversy to their own ends.
It achieves another balance, making the audience sympathize with Weiner without ever forgiving him. There’s a Book of Job-esque quality to the suffering onscreen, but Job isn’t Weiner so much as it’s political process, which is trampled on and cast aside in favor of publicly shaming a candidate.