'Weiner' is a must see.
Those of you who aren't up to date on American events may have missed this uncomfortable 2011 story of former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner. In one of those slips that seem both unthinkable and completely expected at the same time, Weiner accidentally tweets a picture of his crotch to a woman from his official political Twitter account. After offering initial resistance, Weiner ultimately agrees to resign his seat in Congress. He later makes an unsuccessful bid for the mayoralty of New York City in 2013; his hopes dashed by the emergence of a young woman who provides proof that Weiner continued to send sexually explicit texts after the 2011 scandal broke.
The film has stayed with me for three primary reasons:
What exactly did he do wrong?
I left the film without a clear understanding of what the filmmakers feel Weiner did that was considered wrong. Weiner's transgression seems to be a moving target within the film in a way that makes him a somewhat sympathetic character. For some, the problem was that he sexted at all. For others, it was that he sexted and was a politician. Others still felt a sense of betrayal that he promised the behavior had ended when it had not. Let's not overlook the fact that he is a married man in what is presented as a traditional relationship. I raise these points because they suggest that people may be projecting onto Weiner whatever it is that they dislike most about themselves or their relationships. Weiner is responsible for his behavior, yes. But, we are responsible for ours as well.
Having said that, he lies.
He lies about continuing his sexting. He lies about the number of people with whom he is in communication. He lies about the time period involved in his behavior. The lies beg more questions. To whom is he answerable, his constituents? His wife? Himself?
Questions abound. Feelings remain mixed.
The role of women
The role of women in Weiner's life is troubling, as well. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, is introduced to us as Hillary Clinton's former right-hand advisor. Abedin is clearly bright and via her association with Clinton imputed to be a person with a point of view and with resolve. However, in the film she is anything but. The camera often catches her with this doe-eyed look that is impossible to decipher. At times when many would respond with rage Abedin responds with studied distance. Or, on those rare instances when authentic emotion begins to break through she pauses instinctively squelching her moment of truth.
Look. I get it.
Abedin has a camera trained on her the entire time. Every move she makes is recorded in perpetuity. Abedin has to balance competing priorities of self, motherhood, and campaign at a moment's notice. I'm just pointing out that this powerful capable woman has been reduced in the film to a mere portion of her former self. Perhaps, this is the experience of many partners of those with problematic sexual behavior or sex addiction. The old life was a lie. The new life with the knowledge of the partner's behavior is uncharted, fraught with risk, stymying. At one point, Weiner passive-aggressively berates her for not agreeing to exit a building with him since the media is believed to be outside the door. I want her to call him on his narcissistic refusal to take responsibility for the media microscope under which they find themselves. Instead, Abedin concocts an expedient excuse to avoid the conflict.
I'm left with the question, 'Why I am this upset with a woman who has been damaged by her husband's behavior?' Such a question demands follow-ons: 'Is my frustration with Abedin part of a cultural misogyny that needs to be challenged?' and, 'To what extent is Abedin complicit in Weiner's cycle of problematic sexual behavior, as well as a victim of it?' Anyone with uncontrollable sexual behavior who wants a better life must examine how current relationships support or challenge problematic sex.
And, what about Sydney Leathers, the woman who catalyzes the end of Weiner's hope to become Mayor of New York City? Leathers comes across in the film as a steely character who takes every opportunity to milk her 15 minutes of fame. The end of the film shows Weiner and wife darting through backdoors at his election night concession party to avoid Leathers . I was furious. Surely, the answer is for Weiner to face her on camera and to tell her that her time in the spotlight is over. Certainly, Abedin has a role to play in communicating to Leathers how her behavior not only hurts Weiner but the Weiner family and women in general too. But, the moment of truth never comes.
My emotional reaction to Leathers is initially strong and negative. The pride she takes in shaming Weiner for his hypocrisy offers a direct line to her own shame. I know nothing of her background. But, I know this behavior. It speaks volumes with its demand that, 'you shall suffer as I have.' Ironically, Leathers becomes a pornstar herself showing Weiner how to act out sexually properly - I imagine. It's only upon leaving the movie theater that I allow myself to feel compassion for Leathers. With time the glare of her brash behavior dims and allows me to reflect on the difficult life that must have driven a young woman in her 20's to choose to become such an infamous national figure.
Why did he agree to make this documentary?
The filmmaker asks Weiner this question towards the end of the film. As politicians do, he manages to avoid a clear response. Weiner does 'fess up to being aware that others may think he's crazy for doing so. Perhaps, the film represents a chance for redemption through a certain form of honesty. I'm speaking of a certain transparency with respect to who he is. That transparency is only translucent however. Weiner manipulates at every opportunity. Although, she is shown in one or two segments Weiner's mother figures little in the film. The father is not only missing, but he is not even alluded to in the film. The result is that Weiner's early life is completely overlooked. Why is he the way he is?
Redemption is hard to achieve in film without understanding and empathy from filmmaker and viewer. Weiner expresses a feeble hope that the filmmaker will be sympathetic. I'm not sure he is. The film has a humorous, farcical tone to it. Weiner wants to be taken seriously.
Or, it could be that Weiner misjudges his ability to control what the camera sees. At one point, he expresses his anger at the filmmaker for not being the 'fly on the wall' that Weiner hoped he would be. The illusion of control is characteristic of sex addiction (although Weiner does not confirm ownership of this label when asked).
Why he agrees to the documentary is unclear. That he agrees to it means that the rest of us get a glimpse into sex in the modern age and its impact on family and self in a much truer fashion than usual.
I say yes. Weiner is one to see.