"The punchline is true about me...I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of other things too." So says Anthony Weiner at the beginning of the documentary that bears his name. His statement is both an admission and a reminder, as presented with a level of candour that mightn't be expected from a former New York congressman. Of course, Weiner isn't any old politician ,and there's a reason that everyone knows who he is. You saw the scandals play out, giggling about someone with his particular surname getting caught texting dick pics. Now we get to see his side of the story.
Indeed, we already know why filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg were keen to peer beyond the international headlines and discover the man behind the very public mockery. What isn't always clear is just why Weiner himself agreed to be involved. Why did he agree to subject himself to a warts-and-all look at his notorious indiscretions and their impact upon his career and marriage. And why did he agree to give the film crew such extraordinarily intimate access?
That's the first of many questions that springs from this astute and insightful film, and most of them don't have easy or obvious answers. In fact, when Kriegman is heard interrogating his subject about why he was allowed to chronicle the minutiae of his life, Weiner doesn't really have a response, other than later stating his desire to be seen as more than just a punchline. His loyal wife Huma Abedin, an advisor to Hillary Clinton, and an increasingly distressed figure in the feature, doesn't know what to say either. Still, as the tabloids, news reports and late-night comedians prove relentless in dissecting her decision to stand by her husband, her deteriorating facade speaks volumes.
By honing in on Weiner's comeback mayoral bid, which is soon derailed when another explosive revelation rears its head, the documentary does a great many things. It acts as an all-too-familiar twist on the American dream, contemplating not just the path to success, but trying again after falling so far. It examines the difficulty of living a life of incessant scrutiny while trying to put your past behaviour behind you. It offers disarming images of a man watching his world fall down around him yet again. It points the finger at the way the media treats those in their orbit. And it provides an utterly fascinating look at the real inner-workings of a political campaign.
Here, the truth is absolutely stranger than fiction — and more compelling, too. Kriegman and Steinberg present rather than judge, and flesh out rather than assume. The end result is patient and observational as it follows Weiner on the campaign trail, yet remains infused with the urgency of his rollercoaster existence. Whatever your thoughts on the man, we're guessing they won't be the same when the end credits roll.