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“Weiner” is one of the best political documentaries in some time

weiner documentary

More often than not, a documentary tends to be about something you previously were not fully educated on or not even aware of. In this case, however, Weiner happens to be on a subject and about a person that already fascinates me. Somehow though, it managed to exceed expectations, so much so that I think it’s potentially a modern documentary classic. A look not just at a political scandal but at running a 21st century campaign in general, I think this is something pretty special. Anthony Weiner is a controversial politician, no doubt about it, but there’s no controversy here…this is a great doc. It’s hitting theaters this week and is a must see.

The doc is a warts and all look at Anthony Weiner. It begins by bringing you up to speed on his congressional career, where he was a liberal Democrat and hero to the left. Then, he was caught up in a scandal when he lied about tweeting out a picture of his privates, meant for someone who wasn’t his wife. He resigned in disgrace, but as the documentary gets going, he’s rehabbed his image somewhat and is running for Mayor of New York City. Things are even going well, his wife Huma Abedin (right hand woman to Hillary Clinton) is all but beloved, and the race could be easily won. Then, the scandal comes back, with new allegations. Through it all, Weiner stays on camera. It’s far more than a portrait of this man, but a look at a type of personality, the way politics are today, and much more. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, with both co-writing the outline for the doc with Eli B. Despres, while Kriegman also handles the camerawork.

What sets this apart for me is that, no matter how you feel about the man, his contrasting personality traits come through. On the one hand, he’s an effective politician, someone who actually appears to care about policy. He loves his son, he seems genuinely driven to run the city, and contrite about what happened. On the other hand, he loves the spotlight, seems to have no shame, and also can’t stop screwing up. Two moments stand out for me. One is when he’s trying to comfort a member of his staff once the scandal has started anew. He does some Rodney Dangerfield jokes, hoping to make her laugh. The thing is, he doesn’t think and chooses ones about infidelity. The look of horror on his staffer’s face says it all. The other is a notoriously argumentative interview he did on MSNBC with Lawrence O’Donnell. Weiner thinks it’s funny the next day, but his wife Huma is embarrassed and furious at him, something we see multiple times over the course of the doc.

Historically, Oscar doesn’t necessarily go for this sort of a thing, but I do think there is a world in which Weiner at least makes the short list for a Best Documentary Feature nomination. A lot will depend on the competition, but I suspect some of the precursors will look favorably upon it, such as the Gotham Awards and especially the Independent Spirit Awards. The doc did win the Grand Jury Prize at the most recent Sundance Film Festival in the documentary category, so it does have a pedigree already. I’m not sure the Academy will recognize it, but they should at least consider it with some seriousness.

Overall, Weiner is far more than a look at a train wreck of a political campaign. It’s very much an indictment of how politics is done today, along with how it’s covered. The man is flawed, of course, but pundits won’t let it go and immediately try to diagnose him as sick, ruining his image. He did that to himself in many ways, but the media made it worse. Oddly enough, having a film crew following him probably was the biggest indignity of them all at the time. Still, the end result is a fantastic documentary and one of the ten best things I’ve seen this year, doc or not. Definitely give it a chance when you can, as it’s something very unusual and wildly entertaining…

Be sure to check out Weiner, in theaters on a limited basis starting tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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