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May 21, 2016
Review: Weiner

weinerWhen you’re offered an intimate portrait of Anthony Weiner, part of you wonders, “What more is there left to see?” Besides the literal over-exposure of the former New York congressman, the psychological profile of Weiner isn’t exactly opaque either. He is brash, attention-seeking, theatrical, vain, and charming. In other words, he is a politician. The documentary, Weiner, made by an ex-staffer, Josh Kriegman, with seemingly limitless access to the subject, can’t do much to develop this self-evident truth. What it accomplishes is to suggest there is a depth to Weiner that we still can’t quite grasp.

To recap his story in brief, Weiner was a New York congressman when the 2011 revelation of inappropriate communications with a variety of remote, female interlocutors led him to resign. In an attempt to gain back his political career, he ran for mayor of New York in 2013. Then, another rash of communications were revealed. The documentary — following Weiner during this latter part of his very public double-scandal — screened to an enthusiastic, responsive crowd for the opening night of the Rooftop Films series on May 18, 2016.

Ignoring a light May drizzle, the audience stayed rapt and amused by the rapid-fire humor of both the director’s editing and Weiner’s own manic, pugnacious charisma. The documentary samples from the best of TV’s political satirists for a couple punch lines and commands its own quiet sense of humor, constructed mostly from its clever edits and a good eye for the charms of everyday New Yorkers. The movie is a great watch. Even if you don’t have a lively Rooftop crowd to watch it with (who were maybe all the more enthusiastic because of the live music and after party that bookend each Rooftop screening), the movie is simply enjoyable

Where it gets interesting, though, is the portrait of Weiner’s marriage to Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin. The dynamic seems so obvious. Her pained expression as his second round of texting partners comes forward is eminently readable. Not to mention the symbolic heft of her daughter-like relationship to one of America’s most famous wronged wives. The narrative writes itself, and Abedin fits her role perfectly. But Weiner and Abedin, are closed-off people. Kriegman and directorial partner Elyse Steinberg cannot really draw either of them out.

It is in this infallible stone-walling that you begin to suspect you don’t really know it all. That and the lack of open hostilities between the (presumably) estranged couple. You’ve come to the movie to snicker, but on screen their marriage doesn’t seem like a joke. Mired in a tension akin to middle schoolers who like-like each other, you start to intuit that this isn’t obvious story of an asshole married to a doormat. It just might be a much more subtle and tragic story of two people who love each other, and are too trapped inside of themselves to deal with it.

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