Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 5:32 pm 
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Basic documentary of Weiner's disastrous campaign for mayor of New York

Anthony Weiner, disgraced Congressman from New York, then disgraced candidate for the city's mayor, is a politician brought down by sex scandal for the digital age. His special humiliation is that his improprieties never even involved physical sex. They were all only virtual, online, social media, "sexting" (exchanges of lewd text messages), faux pas on social media, and phone sex. This film is mainly a blow-by-blow account of Weiner's mayoral campaign. He already had to contend with the almost insurmountable obstacle to election of the public's widespread disapproval of his past. But it got worse. As the campaign progressed it emerged that after his resignation from Congress he had continued to engage in multiple phone sex relationships.

It becomes clear than Weiner, whatever his liberal bone fides, his declared aim of protecting the middle class in New York City, is a seriously flawed individual. Apart from his weakness for sex-at-a-distance on multiple platforms with multiple (virtual) partners, he also has generally poor impulse control. He is seen behaving extremely as a speaker in the House while a Congressman, though his anger in defending Obama's health care plan against the Republicans is admirable, and may have been effective. Later, he is filmed by the directors frequently flying off the handle with adversaries, whether interviewers in the media or hecklers encountered in the campaign. He also seems compulsive in his persistence in campaigning against all odds. His belief that running for mayor was the best way of wiping his record clean of the 2011 scandal seems misguided. He appears perpetually in denial first of his acts and then of their seriousness. In short, he is a man in need of help. "What's wrong with you?" a prominent TV interviewer asks him. And he has no answer. In 2013 he received only 4% of the vote when Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York.

There is nothing special to set apart the TV-ready film by Josh Krieman and Elyse Steinberg from any other rudimentary documentary about a political campaign, with its jiggly digital images and jumpy editing. The only reason for watching it, as with many documentaries, is an interest in the subject matter. The filmmakers had exceptionally good access to Weiner and his wife. This film, like the media, focuses on scandal, presenting virtually nothing about the political issues figuring in the New york mayoral campaigns.

The special focus here is on Weiner's relation with the leading figures in his mayoral campaign, and with his wife since 2010, Huma Abedin, a leading aide to Hillary Clinton. The scandal that drove Weiner from Congress was in 2011. Well, Hillary is no stranger to politician husbands' sex scandals. But will Huda, a Muslim American with Indian and Pakistani parents who speaks fluent Arabic, be an asset to Hillary's presidential campaign? And if she will continue to be too essential to lose, will she be able to stay with the disgraced and failed politician, Anthony Weiner?

Weiner, 96 mins., debuted at Sundance 24 Jan. 2016 (where it was reviewed for Variety by Geoff Berkshire), and also showed at True/False festival 3 Mar. It will show in the New Directors/New Films FSLC-MoMA series, where it was screened for this review, 25 Mar., and it is scheduled for US theatrical release 20 May 2016. It will premiere on Showtime in Oct. 2016.

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