Weiner: Irresistible Impulse, by Matt Warren
What is the job of a politician, exactly? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as we trudge through yet another grim clown pit of an election cycle. Sure, I took civics in high school just like everyone else did, but I’ve been more or less out on politics ever since Rage Against the Machine tricked me into voting for Ralph Nader in 2000—a fact that still makes me vaguely nauseous every time I dare conjure it from my appertain-ravaged memory banks.
Are politicians simply executive managers in charge of handling the day-to-day operations of national government? Or is the politician’s job to innovate and be a thought leader coming up with the big-picture solutions to all of society’s ills? Or! Is the job of a politician simply to perform the kabuki of partisan media mongering, anchoring endless reelection campaigns and scoring superficial Calvin Ball points against the equally dead-eyed ciphers across the aisle?
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s tragic and entertaining new documentary Weiner is a fascinating, semi-vérité peek inside one less-than-typical New York City mayoral campaign. It’s an incisive character study about an imperfect, half-likeable serial cock-flaunter who may or may not be motivated by sincere altruism. Weiner leverages incredible access to provide a forehead-slapping portrait of one otherwise viable Democrat’s abrupt, hubristic descent into professional irrelevancy.
The film opens in the ramp-up to Anthony Weiner’s campaign for the 2013 New York City mayoral race, which the disgraced former congressman saw as his ticket back to the big time following his humiliating exile from Washington in the wake of a low-stakes dick pics scandal—a widely-reported media kerfuffle that was mostly propelled by the novelty of a politician named “Weiner” sending bawdy .jpgs of his duly-elected Semitic prick to select members of his constituency.
At first, Weiner presents himself as the comeback kid, gaining real momentum due in no small part to the loyalty and support of his charismatic, wildly attractive Iranian-American wife, Huma Abedin, herself a former aide to Hillary Clinton. Abedin is the quintessential “good wife”, standing by her man even as his (figurative) corpse is thrown to the frothing-jawed dire wolves of cable news and social media. Sounds like a pretty straightforward tale of redemption, no? Well…it’s not a spoiler to point out that Anthony Weiner is not, in fact, currently the mayor of New York.
Weiner has all the elements of great drama: intriguing, flawed characters; unlikely twists and turns; a narrative that’s equal parts comedy and tragedy. The access Kriegman and Steinberg have is remarkable, providing a boots-on-the-ground snapshot of this odd Democratic misadventure as it unfolds in real time — and without any apparent intervention or interference from Weiner’s optics goons.
“Why did you let us film this?” asks Kriegman from behind the camera at one critical moment. All Weiner can do is shrug. But whatever the reason, Weiner’s ceaseless parade of hubris-driven personal and professional degradation makes for some truly compelling, edifying, and angering movie watching.
That this happens to come out in 2016 may be pure coincidence, but it’s the perfect cinematic paring to this year’s bug-fuck nutty general election. Whether you’re Democrat, Republican, Replicant, or Robocop, there’s a lot to learn from watching — mouth agape — in slow motion horror at this one particular exhibitionist-legislator’s self-inflicted career suicide. Keep it in your pants, buddy!