Legacy, Storytelling, and Plenty of Anger Issues: Some Thoughts on Weiner

I must admit, I felt nervous when I heard that we MISC students had an extended break for the Independence Day weekend. I’ve been in Portland for forty-eight hours, I thought while leaving homeroom on Friday. What on earth am I supposed to do when I don’t know this city at all? This is the worst Fourth of July ever. Long story short, it wasn’t – I took a bus to Seattle, and among the many fun things I did there I caught the new documentary Weiner. As I watched, I couldn’t help but view it through what I had just learned at camp.

Weiner was directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, and its subject is Anthony Weiner. If you’ve forgotten him, you may remember his alter ego, Carlos Danger, and the sexting scandal that forced him to resign from the House of Representatives in 2011. This documentary, however, covers Weiner’s doomed 2013 run for mayor of New York City. (Weiner lost to Bill De Blasio, in part because more women came forward during his campaign with explicit pictures and texts he had sent them).

The first thing that struck me while watching Weiner was how effectively it tells its story. Connecting back to MISC, the movie utilized the techniques and elements we discussed at camp skillfully. There are characters (Weiner himself, his wife and top aide to Hillary Clinton Huma Abedin, various aides to Weiner’s campaign, the 22-year- old woman who starts the scandal over again) who have strong motivations and personalities. There is a beginning, a climax, and most importantly a resolution. Conflicts abound in Weiner’s relationship with those around him (especially the press and the public). In sum, it’s an incredibly compelling story that draws laughs, cringes, and relief at all the right times.

This success was set up by many directorial choices (that I for one am certainly inspired by as I think about my own documentaries). First, there are several great montage sequences interspersed with fly-on- the-wall footage and interviews that advance the plot of the film forward. These sequences use secondary footage from C-SPAN, the news, and late night comedy shows to great effect. For example, the film opens using such clips to introduce the audience to Weiner’s political career, showing him shouting down politicians trying to obstruct bills, and the scandal that crashed his meteoric rise.

Why bother having Weiner explain what happened to him when you can use secondary sources to show it in an entertaining and informative manner? The use of these clips throughout has the added effect of showing just how big a role television, newspapers, and social media had in the 2011 and 2013 scandals.

The directors of Weiner also have a fantastic eye for visuals that tell a story in a single frame. At one point, Weiner is at his desk, eating and watching an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell that ends in a shouting match. He tries to pretend the segment makes him look good (spoiler alert: it really doesn’t) and encourages Huma to watch it with him. Huma is framed on the right, and her expression can be described as pained, incredulous, or infuriated. She quickly leaves after asking how he can watch, and Weiner is left alone with the glow of the computer for a few seconds before the shot cuts. This shot contributes not only to the greater arc of Weiner’s election bid, but also his relationship with Huma. I could go on and on about more such visuals – they’re scattered throughout.

But what struck me most about the documentary was Weiner’s complete self-consciousness and the fact that the tenacity that made him a great politician also led to his downfall. Sure, he makes obscene gestures at the press, gets into shouting matches with his hecklers, and says things in interviews that he really shouldn’t. Yet his countenance always betrays his emotions, and remorse always crosses his face immediately after his anger subsides. His head is too big for his own good, and he is running a campaign that could never win, yet he knows it. It’s almost heartbreaking. I’m very grateful to the documentarians for showing us that side of Weiner that most media never does. The perspective is refreshing, and one that’s been absent since the Danger days. Kudos to Kriegman and Steinberg for painting a full picture of a flawed man, some supporting characters in his life, and his failed efforts to make a comeback. If you have the chance, please do yourself a favor and go see Weiner. It’s a movie ticket well worth the price.