It all seemed to be going well for Anthony Weiner in 2011: a passionate member of Congress for the New York constituency of Brooklyn, well-spoken and charismatic and widely regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party. And – not unimportantly – married to Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s most important advisers. Her husband Bill, the former President, celebrated the wedding of Weiner and Abedin.
But that same year, he resigns in disgrace over a “sexting” scandal, which comes out when a compromising photo appears on his Twitter account. Weiner had wanted to send the photo to one of his contacts, but accidentally posted the photo of his boxer shorts with a noticeable bulge on his public page. The incident does not appear to be isolated: Weiner exchanged sexual messages via social media with various women. The scandal in combination with his somewhat unfortunate surname (an alternative name for the male genitalia) is fodder for comedians and Weiner disappears ingloriously from the scene.
Fast forward to 2013. Weiner is running for mayor of New York City. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg are intrigued by the politician’s attempt to re-run for elected office and are allowed to follow him. Kriegman had been on Weiner’s staff years before, which must have facilitated access to the candidate, his close associates and his family.
The documentary could just have become a story about “the second chance”, an American fairy tale about someone who learns from his mistakes and manages to overcome his past. Initially, it also seems like: Weiner is an energetic campaigner, his message to fight for the middle class seems to be catching on and at one point he even tops the polls. Democratic primaries opponents who raise the scandal are booed by the public. Then things go horribly wrong again: Weiner has again made a mistake with “sexting” with several women and his campaign is drawn into a whirlwind of negative publicity.
It is a fascinating spectacle that then unfolds: as if you were watching an accident in slow motion. You finally don’t want to see it, but you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Deputy shame and pity for Huma Abedin, who at first publicly defends Weiner and his candidacy, but who gradually starts to look more dubious and sad behind the scenes. As far as Weiner himself, the media frenzy seems to barely get through: “I did the thing,” he says repeatedly, but almost in passing, making it sound like he’s talking about someone else. Little self-insight is expressed in his words, describing his missteps as politicians’ ability to love attention and that his efforts to engage with voters through social media provided him with other opportunities in that regard. The worst are the moments when he loses his temper and gets into heated discussions: first in a live TV interview with a journalist and second in a Jewish deli with another New Yorker. Wife Huma immediately sees the political problems and disapproves of his performance, while Weiner looks back on it with pride and seems especially concerned about his thinning hair on the back of his head. It is a typical image of a narcissistic man who seems to have lost touch with reality.
Despite the continuous pursuit by the media, despite all the questions he gets from residents and journalists about his behavior, despite everything, Weiner remains in the race. Perhaps against your better judgment. It produces sad images, with the low point being that Weiner takes his young son to the polling station on Election Day and the toddler bursts out crying from all the cameras, microphones and flash lamps. Abedin has already withdrawn from the campaign and is no longer seen on Weiner’s side.
What the makers do very well is that the images speak for themselves. For example, Weiner himself is the only “talking head” to be seen in the documentary. There is no interpretation, no comment afterwards. The cameras only register what is going on around Weiner, supplemented by the media coverage at that time. Naturally, Kriegman and Steinberg have made a selection from the 400 hours of footage, but they do not really pass judgment on Weiner. They leave that to the viewer.
What arises above all is the image of a talented, vain politician who becomes entangled in a scandal that he himself has caused and from which there is no escape for him.
is possible. In vain we see a New Yorker on the street, sighing on archive: “Just walk away, man.” That is perhaps the best description of Weiner’s decline.
Around the time the documentary came out in the United States, new revelations about Weiner related to sexting surfaced. Huma Abedin, now closely associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, left him and filed for divorce.