Weiner (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The second rise and fall of Weiner

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When Anthony Weiner attempted to run for the office of Mayor of New York City in 2013, he seemed to be on the way to a sort of redemptive comeback, and he actually had a very good chance for that. He had right people who could gladly help him, and the public was ready to accept him again even though everyone still remembered when he fell hard with lots of public humiliation a few years ago.

However, he found himself screwing up his second chance as being slapped with another public humiliation, and documentary film “Weiner” gives us a closer look at the progress of his absurd fall which was quite an unexpected Shakespearean narrative turn for its filmmakers. The directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg were allowed to hang around Weiner and other campaign staffers from the very beginning of his campaign, and Weiner mostly let himself exposed in front of their camera except a few occasions in the documentary. It is compelling to watch how his seemingly promising campaign came to be collapsed because of his human foible, and it is also darkly amusing to observe how he got himself into another mess because he simply could not help himself despite his previous hard lesson.

As shown during the early part of the documentary, Weiner became a rising star of his party after he moved from the New York City Council to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999. He was pretty good at drawing media attention to his savvy political activities in the House, and we see how he pulled out all the stops to lambast Republican congressmen voting against the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010. He consequently became a more prominent figure in Washington D.C. as everybody talked about him, and it certainly helped that his wife Huma Abedin was one of the most trusted aides of Hilary Clinton. In fact, Bill Clinton officiated at the wedding when Weiner and Abedin married in 2010.

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But then he was struck down by a scandal in 2011, and everything Weiner had accomplished was crumbled down as a result. When he sent a very inappropriate photograph to one of his many Twitter followers, it did not take much time for that photograph in question to be spread around the whole world, and he quickly became a national laughing stock. He probably intended it as a private joke, but we all know too well that there is no such thing like privacy on the Internet – especially if you are a well-known public figure who is always expected to show examples to others.

Eventually, after several denials and evasions, Weiner admitted his big mistake with a public apology, and he subsequently resigned as demanded while trying to recover from this disastrous scandal. Although she was apparently hurt by her husband’s indiscreet behavior, his pregnant wife stood by him anyway, and she supported him wholeheartedly when he reached for his second chance two years later.

Things seem hopeful as the camera looks around the Weiners’ apartment or the headquarters of his campaign for the upcoming Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City. With his wife and their young son around him, Weiner is confident about the primary although his past scandal is being brought into spotlight as everyone expected, and Abedin and other campaign staffers are ready for making his political comeback possible.

 Despite the initial skepticism around his campaign, it turned out voters were willing to give Weiner a second chance. As fiercely competing against other candidates, Weiner reached out to voters along with his intact enthusiasm, and many voters began to forgive his public misdemeanor. At one point, the documentary gives us a humorous moment which shows how his campaign was more exciting compared to the campaign of Bill de Blasio, the current Mayor of New York City.

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As his popularity in public kept going up and up to everyone’s surprise, there came another twist in 2013 July. It was revealed that Weiner corresponded with a 22-year old woman via a website called The Dirty while many explicit pictures and sexting messages were exchanged between them, and this was an unmitigated disaster to Weiner’s campaign mainly because it happened *after* his resignation as a congressman in 2011.

Weiner and his campaign staffers tried to get things under control, but the circumstance became more daunting as the chance of recovery was rapidly decreasing. While struggling to deal with her husband’s another trouble, Abedin also tries to suppress whatever is boiling inside her, and we can only guess from her hardened face how much she feels hurt and betrayed. During one scene, Weiner sincerely apologizes to his wife and campaign staffers, and he also tries hard to shift media attention away from his new scandal, but it turns out that he is his worst enemy, as shown from his catastrophic live interview with Lawrence O’Donnell.

In the end, “Weiner”, which received the US Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, culminates to an absurd climactic moment which did happen during the evening of election day, as alternatively captured by two cameras. It is rather amazing that Weiner let the filmmakers shoot what may be the most humiliating moment in his life, and he even agreed to be interviewed later. Musing on how he came to ruin his chance as disappointing himself as well as others around him, he looks fine for now, but I cannot help but think of one of my late friend Roger Ebert’s favorite lines from “Citizen Kane” (1941): “If it was anybody else, I’d say what’s going to happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you’re going to need more than one lesson. And you’re going to get more than one lesson.”

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