House Speaker Dennis Hastert molested high school students, Senate Whip Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge and left a woman to die, Sen. John Edwards funneled campaign funds to provide for his baby mama and self-righteous Sen. Larry Craig sought male companionship in public restrooms. Suddenly, Rep. Anthony Weiners proclivity for tweeting pics of his not-so-little Weiner doesnt seem quite so bad.
Yet none of his aforementioned congressional colleagues were forced to resign. He was, and became a national laughingstock not once, but twice, after he was caught sexting a second time in 2013, while running for mayor of the Big Apple. Still, as Donald Trump quips without an ounce of irony in the riveting documentary, Weiner, We dont want perverts running New York. No, you dont. But the question remains: Why do so many politicians and this includes sainted heroes like JFK and MLK fail to govern their groins? Is it ego? Pathology?
If you ask Weiner, as filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman so compellingly do while documenting his failed race for mayor, hell tell you that for him, its an insatiable need to always be the center of attention. But his much-put-upon wife (and top Hillary Clinton lieutenant), Huma Abedin, would say its more a deadly combination of selfishness and childish behavior. Well, she doesnt quite say that, but her heartbroken eyes sure do as we watch her reluctantly stand by her man as he faces a daily gauntlet of angry, betrayed New York City supporters and a relentless local tabloid press exhausting every penis pun in the screaming-headline business.
You really feel for her, too. But maybe its just me, but I also felt empathetic toward him. Unlike a lot of politicians, Weiner was not a crook. He never broke up a family, his or anothers. He technically never committed adultery, and he never pandered, lied or cheated to push an agenda of hate and warmongering. He just sent naughty pictures over the internet.
But, to their credit, Steinberg and Kriegman never let him off easily. They dont have to; not when Weiner is so eager to do the shaming for them with a misguided barrage of bravado and cluelessness. The directors provide the rope, and Weiner willingly ties the knot and slips the noose around his neck. Its a lot like watching Robert Durst self-destruct on HBOs The Jinx. But we dont need to wait for some 11th-hour revelation like, I did it. I sexteted them all. No, Weiner comes right out and admits it, albeit after being outed on the aptly named website, The Dirty.
The timing couldnt be worse, either. After months of marriage counseling and a newborn baby, Anthony and Huma are on excellent terms at the start of Weiner. Hes even climbed to the top of the polls in his race for mayor. As Weiner puts it, I think Ive successfully whistled past the graveyard. But just as his phoenix is rising from the ashes, a tattooed, buxom Kardashian wannabe named Sydney Leathers stands at the ready with a fame-seeking slingshot to shoot him down perhaps forever.
A wounded Weiner, fighter that he is, bravely many would say stupidly martyrs on, even as his poll numbers and marriage slide. Its uncomfortable to watch, but you cant help but be riveted, even inspired, as Weiner boldly faces his detractors; even winning some of them over with his impassioned pleas that the shortcomings in his personal life have nothing to do with his determination to fight for the little guy against the greedy one-percenters. But just when youre starting to pull for him to rebound, he says something stupid like comparing sexting to being pen pals.
Like MSNBCs Lawrence ODonnell, you want to grab Weiner by the shoulders and scream out, Whats wrong with you? Youve got a beautiful, powerful wife, an adorable toddler son and more money than most. So why risk throwing it all away on sexting a bimbo like Sydney Leathers, who can barely hide her sarcasm when she says shes profoundly sorry for having exposed him? It just doesnt make sense. And neither does his apparent inability to be conciliatory toward Huma, who frankly is an idiot not to leave him after the way he continues to behave toward her as if nothing happened. And were not alone. In a New Yorker interview, Clinton all but says its time for Huma who she says is like a second daughter to choose between she or Anthony.
Yet, such an ultimatum (which Clinton has since denied) is a bit hypocritical considering her marriage to the philandering ex-president, who irony of all ironies, officiated at Anthony and Humas wedding. Ah, but the real kicker is that near the end of the film, we see none other than Bill Clinton swearing in Weiners mayoral opponent, Bill de Blasio. Dont that beat all? Sort of full circle, as in the nine circles of hell.
Its about that time that the filmmakers, like us, finally ask Weiner what we all have been dying to know: Why in the world did you let us film this? I wont spoil it by repeating his answer; just know it raises more questions than it answers. But really it doesnt matter. A better question is why do we and by we I also mean my beloved Fourth Estate behave like the dog in Up, always letting our attention be so easily diverted by something like the Weiner scandal, which really never affected anyone but he and his sainted, overly-patient wife? Is our focus on the trivial blocking our understanding of the serious issues that actually affect our day-to-day lives?
Weiner seems to think so, and to be honest, its kind of frightening.
A documentary by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, featuring Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin.
(R for language and sexual themes)