Hubris, narcissism, tabloid spectacle and massive self-deception collide with the mesmerizing inevitability of a slow-motion trainwreck in “Weiner”. The movie is an engrossing, almost shamefully entertaining documentary about former congressman Anthony Weiner and politics at its most sensationalist and superficial.
After a promising career as a rising Democratic star that began as New York’s youngest city council member, Anthony Weiner became perhaps better known as the pugnacious, delusional punch line for his dick pics in a Twitter account to a college student in 2011. He resigned from the House of Representatives and two years later, in his bid for a political comeback, running for mayor of New York, he gained only 4 % of the vote.
Released in May, “Wiener” is an IFC documentary with exceptional access bordering on voyeurism. We view campaign headquarters, eavesdrop on strategy meetings with his staffers, and witness the heartbreaking, humiliating experience of a breakdown of the political marriage.
“Weiner” pivots from the narrative of a comeback “kid” to the horror of an appalling, self-deluding narcissist’s quest for power at its most obsessive and incomprehensible level.
The questions the documentary implicitly promises to answer all begin with “why.” Why would a rising star squander his political capital by outrageous and compulsive behavior we might forgive in a teenage boy but not in a middle-aged politician? Why does he seem so insensitive or uncaring about his beautiful, intelligent wife at turns bullying her and humiliating her in front of a camera?
And most puzzling of all, why does the gorgeous and supremely talented Huma Abedin seem a victim of spousal abuse, reserved and resolute as Alicia Florrick in the TV series, “The Good Wife”? She rarely refuses his most callous requests. We cheer when Huma refuses to go with him to the polls on election day, so Weiner takes their infant son as a humanizing prop. And when he again breaks his promise and is caught sexting, we are relieved to see Huma refuse to stand next to him.
“Weiner” answers these questions tentatively. He is a glutton for punishment, who craves any attention, no matter how cringe-worthy.
Why does Anthony Weiner allow the camera to film him and his wife in excrutiatingly painful and intimate moments, immediately after Huma discovers his betrayal? The implication is that, in spite of his sexual predilections derailing his bid to be mayor, Weiner is also “certifiably” delusional. He is incapable of seeing himself the way others see him: as a loser with disturbing character flaws unfit for political office. For him there seems to have been no risk-taking. Filming the documentary would justify his actions, not condemn them…in his mind.
And equally unsettling and flabbergasting: Why did Huma Abedin endure this treatment from her husband, and in front of their son? While Weiner is the paradigm for extremely poor judgment, lack of anger management and impulse control, Huma remains enigmatic. The moments in the film where Huma is humiliated and her eyes reflect her deep sorrow and regret may make viewers disheartened as well as puzzled.
Weiner seems incapable of self-reflection or taking responsibility for the harm to his family, especially when he is communicating face-to-face with his wife. Weiner’s deep delusions we can understand as a clinical diagnosis but what does Huma feel? She remains dignified but defeated.
Why would Huma Abedin allow this mortification? That is the ultimate mystery of this documentary.
We think we know the story, but we don’t.