Weiner

WEINER, doc­u­men­tary, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Jonathan Richards

Aris­to­tle had a term for it:

ha­mar­tia. Gen­er­ally de­fined as a “tragic flaw,” in clas­si­cal tragedy, it’s the char­ac­ter weak­ness in a great man that, in com­bi­na­tion with ex­ter­nal fac­tors, brings about his un­do­ing.

The po­ten­tial for great­ness in An­thony Weiner is de­bat­able, but cer­tainly not dis­mis­si­ble. The for­mer New York City Demo­cratic con­gress­man and may­oral can­di­date was an im­pas­sioned gla­di­a­tor for pro­gres­sive and hu­man­i­tar­ian causes. This doc­u­men­tary opens with a clip of his fiery 2011 speech on the floor of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in which he ex­co­ri­ates the Repub­li­cans for block­ing a mea­sure to pro­vide com­pen­sa­tion for sick­ened 9/11 first re­spon­ders.

Weiner was a ris­ing star in the Demo­cratic Party, a fre­quent guest on news and late night shows. He was con­nected to the top tier of po­lit­i­cal power — his wife, Huma Abe­din, is a close aide to Hil­lary Clin­ton.

And then the roof fell in. Sex scan­dals are com­mon enough in pol­i­tics as to be al­most banal, but Weiner’s (the movie’s epi­gram quotes Mar­shall McLuhan: “The name of a man is a numb­ing blow from which he never re­cov­ers”) struck an elec­tric chord in the New York tabloid press. He was, it seems, given to sex­ting and send­ing pictures of his bulging un­der­wear to strangers via the so­cial me­dia.

His re­sponse to the, er, ex­posé, fol­lowed a fa­mil­iar tem­plate. He lied, to his wife and to the press, then fessed up when faced with ir­refutable proof, did a mea max­ima culpa, and fi­nally re­signed.

A cou­ple of years later he an­nounced his come­back by fil­ing to run for mayor of New York City. The pub­lic seemed ready to for­give. In the early Demo­cratic pri­mary polls, Weiner was on top. Bill de Bla­sio lan­guished near the bot­tom.

En­ter film­mak­ers Josh Krieg­man (a for­mer Weiner staffer) and El­yse Stein­berg, with a pro­posal to fol­low the can­di­date through the cam­paign, record­ing the drama in his pub­lic and per­sonal life from a fly-on-the-wall per­spec­tive. They had ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­cess, which re­mark­ably was not shut down when in mid-cam­paign, new and even more damn­ing sex­ting ev­i­dence emerged. Some of it had hap­pened since his res­ig­na­tion from Con­gress. Some of it turns out to be with a porn star, who makes a self­pro­mot­ing ap­pear­ance later on in the film.

The re­sult is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing and ex­cru­ci­at­ing po­lit­i­cal doc­u­men­taries you will ever see.

In Weiner’s de­fense, his scan­dal in­volved no mo­lest­ing of in­terns, no in­fi­deli­ties, just a shock­ing ad­dic­tion to a pen­chant so hu­mil­i­at­ing and so em­i­nently dis­cov­er­able as to de­mand the ques­tion, “An­thony, what’s wrong with you?” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Don­nell asks just that ques­tion, and the scrappy Weiner fires back with at­ti­tude. Later, the doc­u­men­tary cam­era is in the room at the Weiner home when he watches that in­ter­view with Abe­din. He’s clearly pleased with him­self. She shakes her head and leaves the room.

Abe­din is a thor­oughly ap­peal­ing char­ac­ter, and though there will al­ways be peo­ple who con­sider them­selves qual­i­fied to dic­tate to some­one else’s mar­riage, she earns deep sym­pa­thy for her stead­fast­ness in the face of al­most un­bear­able pain. Weiner him­self sheds sym­pa­thy like a stripper as the movie pro­gresses. Shock ther­apy tries to cure ad­dic­tion by as­so­ci­at­ing it with some­thing pro­foundly neg­a­tive. His hu­mil­i­at­ing down­fall doesn’t seem to have done the trick for Weiner.

At the end of the film, Krieg­man asks him, “Why have you let me film this?” Weiner can only shrug.

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