After a celebrated theatrical run, “Weiner” finally arrives on Showtime, feeling even more timely given the most recent sexting scandal involving former New York congressman Anthony Weiner and his subsequent split with wife and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
A staggering ode to Weiner’s ego, the documentary rifles through his years as a rising Democratic political star to his resignation in the first few minutes, before following Weiner’s failed 2013 run for New York City’s mayor. The cameras are thus there as the bid unravels amid new revelations, in ways that are illuminating and, in Abedin’s pained expressions alone, profoundly uncomfortable.
Weiner appears addicted to the spotlight and adulation that goes with politics, much to the chagrin of those surrounding him. That’s virtually the only explanation for why he would have agreed to provide this sort of unfettered access, which includes allowing the camera to capture him as he endures a series of phone calls and interviews in his shorts.
As the wheels come off the campaign, Weiner snaps at documentarian Josh Kriegman (who produced and directed with Elyse Steinberg) for violating the “fly on the wall” conceit by asking him a question. Later, Weiner obsesses over a horrible interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, while urging his wife to reassure him that the combative host came off worse than he did.
The tabloid madness reaches its peak with the absurdity of one sexting partner trying to confront Weiner as he goes out of his way to avoid her, following a circuitous path through a fast-food restaurant. When Kriegman again breaks the unseen wall and asks, “Why have you let me film this?,” there’s no good answer, but the unarticulated response nevertheless seems self-evident given the candidate’s desperate need for attention.
Based on his political gifts, it would be easy to dismiss Weiner’s flameout as hubris, and his “scandal” – a relative misdemeanor in the bigger scheme of political transgressions – as a sideshow to the issues. Yet that ignores what’s been demonstrated time and again – including the current political cycle – regarding the ways in which the personal and political are entwined.
What “Weiner” makes painfully clear is the collateral damage of Weiner’s actions, not merely on his wife but those who believed in and devoted their energy to his campaign. To that extent, it’s possible to share his politics and still see him as a fatally flawed vessel for them.
As Weiner’s marital discord became public, there was talk that the producers might tack an addendum onto the film for its Showtime telecast. But watching “Weiner’s” unfiltered portrait of its subject’s unraveling election hopes, none seems necessary.
“Weiner” premieres October 22 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.