Weiner (2016)

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There are some stories that are just too absurd and ridiculous to be true. Then there are some true stories that are so outrageous, there doesn’t seem to be anyone imaginative enough to actually make this stuff up. One such story is that of Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is one of the most overtly strange political figures in contemporary American politics – and his story is one of the most hilariously bizarre to ever come out of recent politics. Luckily for us, his story has now been given the documentary treatment, and Weiner’s story is displayed for all to see (much like the pictures that caused the scandal that led to his downfall).

Right from the very beginning, we are told to like Anthony Weiner. He is fiery and dedicated Democratic congressman who has tons of fans and is very likable. He fights hard for issues, and uses his temper and passion to fight for the middle class – he is not just a normal political bigwig, he is a man who is dedicated to his career. The start of the film shows how passionate Weiner is to the various causes he chooses to fight for – and then over the course of the film, we are shown the beneath the scandal that defined him, there is a true political hero. The scandal, of course, was Weiner’s chronic addiction to sending explicit pictures to women on the internet a few times, and as soon as these actions come to the surface, he resigns from Congress, only to run for Mayor of New York City two years later – and his initial popularity and lead in the polls is destroyed when another round of allegations come to the surface. We watch in horror as a singular individual goes from being a likable and beloved figure to a social pariah.

I won’t comment too much on the man himself, other than to just say that regardless of his actions, Weiner is a passionate man, and while his actions were not very classy, he still seems like a genuinely good person, which makes Weiner one of the most tragic documentary films I’ve seen in a while. Usually documentaries about individuals are usually to praise the good guys, and to revile the evil people. Very rarely does a documentary come along that just shows the downfall of someone who genuinely didn’t deserve the hatred he received. Perhaps as a politician, he wasn’t fit – but he became laughingstock of the American social and political world, and as this film shows, he just progresses further and further into being someone defined by his own stupid actions.

Weiner is almost satirical in its approach to the story – and very often, it felt like I was watching something in the vein of Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It or Veep, both of which are not nearly as insanely outrageous as Weiner. I can be describe Weiner as being a combination of modern political satire, and Shakespearean tragedy, all combined into one heart-wrenchingly sad and gut-bustingly hilarious documentary that is far too incredibly strange to ever be fictional. The story of Anthony Weiner just can’t be made up. The filmmakers created such an engaging portrait of Weiner and his campaign for Mayor of New York City, but do in such a way that we can’t help but laugh. There are so many instances of everything just failing in such a spectacular manner, it is glorious to watch. It feels bad to laugh at Anthony Weiner, but it is just so much fun.

Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg find the inherent humour in the situation and exploit it well – and moments like Weiner’s elaborate and energetic parade, juxtaposed by Bill De Blasio’s very weak and lacking parade are funny in their own right as visual gags, but when you actully realize that De Blasio himself went on to win the election, it becomes somewhat of a tragedy, but much like seeing someone slip and fall over a banana peel, it is something you can’t help just laugh at (in fact, someone slipping and falling over a banana peel is the perfect visual representation of Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign). Perhaps the best moment in the entire film is towards the end, when a young boy becomes so excited to encounter Weiner, and treats him as if he is meeting the world’s biggest pop star, rather than the disgraced former Congressman and failed ex-mayoral candidate. These small moments are some of the most hilarious of the year, and Weiner is filled with them.

Weiner is a great documentary film. It isn’t overly serious, and also isn’t very necessary. I really doubt Weiner will ever have much influence in the world, and a documentary about his failed campaign wasn’t what the world necessarily needed – but I am so glad they actually made it, because it is a fascinating story, and speaks to various issues, such as the role of social media and the modern political climate. Another great moment arrives when President-elect Donald Trump boldly states in a piece of archival footage that they “don’t want perverts in politics”. Oh, the sweet, sweet irony. Weiner is a fantastic film, and anyone with any interest in politics should see it – it isn’t nearly as dour and dull as many political documentaries, and it is actually one of the more entertaining films of the year.

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