Calling American media and politics broken today sounds like a broken record. The only thing the people and politicians of this country can seem to agree on is that our system is not doing great. Hardly anyone, especially ourselves, seems to be doing anything about it.
Enter Anthony Weiner in 2010, giving a speech to the speechless House of Representatives on a bill designed to provide health care for 9/11 first responders. The documentary “Weiner” begins here, painting a picture of a fiery, scrappy politician from New York, a man of the people. For a brief moment we almost forget what the world will never forget about him, and then out of nowhere he accidentally posts a picture and the world explodes.
The film is the story of Weiner’s mayoral campaign following the famous sexting scandal. There is only one sit down interview in the whole documentary, and as you may guess, it is Weiner himself in present day, narrating and reflecting on the events and decisions that led him to today. Like Citizen Kane or Amadeus, we start at the end of a master’s reign and chart its decline.
I call him a master not because of his political stances, but because you just naturally know that he knows how to play this game and better than the next guy, and the people love him for it. There are funny cuts throughout showing current mayor of NYC Bill de Blasio’s rallies and parades, and then there’s Weiner’s. The crowds he drew baffle me when I can’t imagine a group of more than 200 Americans getting out onto the streets even if the aliens invaded.
Weiner seems to be a walking contradiction. He can weave the public around his fingers and absolutely destroy inferior politicians, but can’t for the life of him stop sending pictures of his penis and generally ruining everything. He seems to be the perfect definition of an anti-hero. He fails his quest for mayor, alienates everyone, succumbs to his flaws, and worst of all, is completely aware of them.
Near the end, a TV anchor asks Weiner, “What’s wrong with you?” Weiner of course knows exactly what’s wrong with him; he’s had day after lonely day to contemplate the mechanics of his own destruction. But he lashes back, using ad hominem arguments against the TV host in order to change the topic. He doesn’t want to be confined to a narrative. He doesn’t want to be the antihero who is defeated by some tragic flaw. He does not want to be a man reduced to a punchline.
So he allows a cameraman to make this documentary about him. He’s definitely not doing it for attention: he is too candid and relaxed in his interview to be grabbing for something. His version of Monica Lewinsky says in TV interview, “don’t meet your heroes,” explaining that knowing your idol will reveal to you all their cracks and scars and ugly sides. I think this documentary is Weiner’s response to that statement. Know your heroes, know your villains, know your friends, know the people who aren’t in the spotlight. If they fall, maybe it’s for the same reasons that they were able to climb so high in the first place. Maybe they’re just people, unable to escape themselves, painfully aware of how everyone else reads their story.
“Weiner” is currently playing now at the Lyric Cinema Cafe. Go to lyriccinemacafe.com to view showtimes and purchase tickets.
Collegian Reporter Morgan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MDSFilms.