Weiner is one of the best films of the year, a riveting, awkward, uncomfortable and illuminating documentary about Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York City mayor in 2013. Anyone who follows news or politics already knows the broad strokes, but the documentary gives us an intimate front-row seat to the lives of those affected by Anthony Weiner’s narcissistic, inexplicable indiscretions, and viewers will wish that their seat was further toward the back, because it’s next to impossible to watch good people suffer so much humiliation.
Is Anthony Weiner one of those “good people”? That’s a tougher question, and one that the documentary has a hard time answering. He’s clearly a good politician. He’s charming, argumentative, smart, and tough, and his political intentions are earnest and noble. He was a popular 7-term Congressman with a groundswell of popular support in New York and a bright political future ahead of him.
Then he got caught sending pictures of his dick to multiple women with whom he was texting. He resigned from Congress in disgrace. His wife, Huma Abedin — who was and still is Hillary Clinton’s closest advisor — was left humiliated by her husband’s actions. His career was left in shambles.
Abedin and Weiner went through a difficult ordeal, but ultimately decided that the best way forward — and the best way to put Weiner’s indiscretions behind him — was to run for Mayor of NYC. So he does, and he does so well, thanks in large part to Abedin, a brilliant, amazing woman who stepped out of the shadows and ran alongside her husband. She spoke nervously to donors. She made phone calls to raise money. She consulted on his campaign, all the while continuing her own career with Hillary and being a mother to their newborn. She is the reason disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner pulled ahead in the polls for Mayor.
Huma Abedin is a goddamn saint. This woman should be President someday. She is an incredible human being, which is what makes the second part of the saga so painful to watch. If this documentary were just about watching a promising politician fall prey to his own hubris and horniness, Weiner would only be half as fascinating and much, much easier to stomach.
But it’s not just about Weiner. It’s about Abedin, as well, about a powerful woman in her own right who put herself out there for her husband only to be humiliated again.
To be clear, Weiner was not sexting anyone during his mayoral campaign, at least as far as we know. But more evidence of his sexting past came to light while he was running, and the timeline showed that he continued to sext with women after he had resigned from Congress, while he and Abedin were struggling in their marriage. It’s not just that these past sexts came to light, it was that he lied and said that he’d stopped sexting women after he resigned from Congress. He had not.
To make matters worse, especially for Abedin, one of the women with whom Weiner was sexting came forward and began appearing on various talk shows. Weiner plummeted in the polls. Abedin tried to put as good a face on it as possible, but it was clear that she was disappointed. Embarrassed. Ashamed. And she had every right to be.
The news media may have been as bad as Weiner here, and this is where the documentary is so telling about our modern culture. We know that the news media harasses and provokes celebrities and politicians, but to actually witness it is eye-opening. They are vicious, aggressive, and almost perversely delighted in destroying Weiner. It’s nothing that Anthony Weiner didn’t deserve, mind you, but to watch Abedin and the members of his campaign suffer through it is too much, too cruel, too painful to watch. They didn’t do anything except to put their faith in this man, and not only are they let down by Weiner, they have to answer for his actions. Watching a despondent, devastated Abedin reluctantly read her stand-by-your-man speech at a press conference is nothing short of heartbreaking.
Only somehow, Weiner gets more difficult to watch, because — to his credit — Weiner didn’t pack up and quit his campaign after the second sexting scandal broke, even though he didn’t have a prayer of winning (he’d end up with 5 percent of the vote). He went back out there, which was brave. But he also dragged along his wife and campaign staff, which was cruel. No moment in this film is more horrifying, in fact, than having to watch Huma Abedin confront the fact that one of the women with whom her husband had been sexting was waiting to confront him at his concession speech. I don’t know how she managed to go on. I don’t know anything about their marriage, or why she chose to stay with him, but I honor and respect her decision. Watching her have to suffer for his shortcomings, however, is brutal to watch.
Why did Weiner do it? He’s asked that countless times during the course of the documentary by various members of the media, but he never really provides a satisfying answer. It’s his private life, he says, and a matter between him and Abedin. From a political standpoint, I get that. From a psychological standpoint, I really want to know what compels a person to risk the humiliation of his wife, the shame of his campaign staff, and the disappointment of potentially millions of voters for what? A superficial, non-physical texting relationship with a stranger. It’s baffling, even if it does make for a luridly fascinating and perversely cruel documentary.
Weiner is currently available for rent or purchase from the normal streaming outlets.