- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Yeah, I did ‘the thing,’ but I also did a lot of other things.”

Profound, if prevaricating, words from former Rep. Anthony Weiner in his first moments in the exquisitely fascinating new documentary, “Weiner,” opening Friday in the District. For it is the hallmark of narcissism to both seek attention while simultaneously lacking introspection.

Co-directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg open their outstanding film — the best of the year thus far, fictional or otherwise — over the credits with a montage of New York Post front pages making every sophomoric headline pun on Mr. Weiner’s name after he was caught sending naughty texts of his eponymous body part to a woman that was not his wife. After delivering a fiery sermon on Capitol Hill in the very first scene, pleading for funds to help 9/11 workers, the dressing down of Mr. Weiner by the media was almost too easy.

One cannot help but imagine the torment he surely suffered on the playground, in school, in business and on the Hill with a name like that — all of it, no doubt, further toughening the immense resolve he later displayed as a politician. More to the immediate point, with a surname like that, the absolute last type of scandal you wish to get caught up in is one involving your willy.

His nom-de-porn, “Carlos Danger,” wasn’t much better.

But “Weiner” is not solely about Mr. Weiner’s indiscretions with his, well, “whatever.”

In the opening sections of the doc, Mr. Weiner is in rare form and reinvigorated, the scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011 now astern, and a new fire burning in his eyes as he seeks to follow Michael Bloomberg as the next occupant of Gracie Mansion. It’s the 2013 mayoral race, and Mr. Weiner makes phone calls, attends donor meetings and rallies fervent support to get to the top of the Democratic ticket. For a while it seems to be going better than OK. So passionate are his fans chanting “WeinerWeinerWeiner” that it is almost difficult to believe that, just two years prior, he left Washington in utter disgrace.

The most inspired edit in the film shows a crowd of supportive New Yorkers embracing Mr. Weiner like a savior at a rally as he waves the flags of Caribbean immigrants who have come to see him. Smash-cut to Bill de Blasio, ambling down a Manhattan street, with a handful of well-behaved well-wishers nodding sans enthusiasm.

It’s surely a trick of the cinema, this juxtaposition of one rally against another, and the two events almost certainly took place nowhere near one another in location or date, but its effect on us is the same.

Americans have long memories for sin, but what we love more than anything is a good comeback story.

Here Mr. Weiner shines as the protagonist of his own narrative of resurrection — Judas changing his robes. We actually root for the guy to win the race and bring his singular ideas for making his hometown better to City Hall.

Alas, as we of course now know, not to be.

Mr. Kriegman, who used to work for Mr. Weiner when he was in Congress, and Ms. Steinberg told me the other day that their intention with the film was to show “the whole man” in their film — not just his failings and his triumphs, but also how the flaws and strengths of his character played out in his home life. Mr. Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide-de-camp, and who is herself certainly no stranger to the public eye — or scandal. Ms. Abedin is seen in background and fore, talking frankly about how she and her husband discussed separating during the 2011 meltdown of his public life and near-implosion of their marriage. They reconciled, and Mr. Weiner is seen never more joyous than when playing with the couple’s young son, Jordan.

Ms. Abedin’s life has been as much a roller coaster as her husband’s, first with his private indiscretions and, within the past year, being subpoenaed to testify as to what and when her boss knew in the ongoing — and tired — Benghazi investigations. Ms. Abedin’s visage in the film is at times inscrutable and at others struggling to bury the pain, most obviously when accusations of “more women” surface just when Mr. Weiner’s campaign seems to be catching fire.

It is the relationship between Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin that forms the heart of the film. For two people who have lived very publicly through thick and thin — much like Mrs. Clinton, who refers in news stories to Ms. Abedin often as her “other daughter” — there are moments when even the cameras are not welcome, with husband and wife at one point closing the door to the film crew.

As great as Mr. Weiner’s second chance was, it was his second fall that proves as equally, if not more, compelling. He deflects and says there will be “no more” women coming forward, as if more than one wasn’t already enough, with Ms. Abedin plastering on a politician’s smile for the cameras to say that she will remain by his side.

Mr. Weiner’s appetites endangered his marriage, but his bellicose pride proved to be the undoing of his bid for mayor. More and more does he field questions about his peccadilloes, and less and less do reporters seem to care about his ideas for the city. Mr. Weiner becomes increasingly flustered, as if not quite believing that his second chance has come to this.

The most difficult scene to watch is when Mr. Weiner attempts a late-campaign rally at a Jewish deli in Brooklyn, where a customer makes an offensive comment to the effect that Mr. Weiner, a fellow Jew, has somehow “betrayed” his own by marrying an Arab-American. It’s a despicable remark, and one that Mr. Weiner cannot let go, turning to his detractor and engaging in a screaming match with cameras rolling.

The clip went viral long before the 6:00 news, and it was over.

The graceful thing, if there even were such a thing possible at that point, would have been for Mr. Weiner to halt the train and end his campaign, but he refuses adamantly, becoming ever more fixated on his destiny long after it has outrun his illusions — a power-mad Caesar demanding to build a bigger Rome amid its sacking by the Visigoths.

At this point in the doc, Mr. Weiner comes across as nothing less than a sociopath, detached from reality and so high on his own legend that he seems willing to sacrifice family, pride and even decency at its altar. His on-camera interviews for Mr. Kriegman and Ms. Steinberg bear a complete absence of self-knowledge, and only again his reiterations that he did “the thing.”

“The thing” so awful it cannot be named except in obtuse language. This was not his marital indiscretions or behaving like a madman on television as his campaign combusted or even giving New Yorkers the middle finger — on camera — as they sent him packing on Election Day. Rather, Mr. Weiner’s “thing” was hubris, the oldest, greatest tragic flaw of them all.

Weiner” opens Friday at the District’s Landmark E Street Cinema.

Rated R: Contains New York-style language, some sexual references and unending puns about Mr. Weiner’s hot dog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The directors said that Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have yet to see the film. Imagine if the cameras rolled on that occasion.

It also worthy of note that none other than Bill Clinton himself swore in Mr. de Blasio to his term as mayor.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide