“Weiner,” a documentary making its local debut at the Edina Cinema, is ostensibly about Anthony Weiner, whose political career careened after a sexting scandal.
But the former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate isn’t the only key character. In fact, there may be just as much cinematic scrutiny of Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton confidant Huma Abedin, especially since her mentor just ascended to presumptive presidential nominee.
The glare doesn’t stop there: The political-media industrial complex looks shallow, if not shady, under the bright lights, too, its unslakable prurient thirst complicit in the debased debate that passes as politics in this country.
Weiner wistfully says at the end of the documentary that he had hoped to be more than a punchline and be viewed as “the full person I was.” On that account, Weiner — the man and the movie — succeeds. Those repelled by his behavior may be surprisingly compelled by his redemption attempt. If not toward Weiner himself, then by New Yorkers showing an admirable American character trait of putting a “full person” in context and providing a second chance.
That is until voters (and viewers) get whiplashed by the sexting scandal’s re-emergence. This time the digital dalliance is between “Carlos Danger” (Weiner’s absurd pseudonym) and Sydney Leathers (code-named “Pineapple” by panicked campaign staffers), whose hunger for publicity leads her to try to ambush Weiner on election night. This results in the surreal scene in which Weiner and his staffers hatch an escape route through a crowded McDonald’s with Leathers in pursuit of the man she has sexted but doesn’t know. Weiner, who finished last in the primary, at least won this race, speeding off in an aide’s car as he flips off pursuing reporters. All part of the “full person,” evidently.
So too is a different, but still strange, kind of intimate exhibition: Weiner’s willingness to expose his life, and wife, to an omnipresent camera capturing cynical political positioning and excruciatingly uncomfortable marital moments (months, actually).
But by Weiner’s own on-camera comments, it wasn’t just his jaundiced judgment: Abedin also seemed keen on his candidacy, despite the inevitable invasiveness it would bring. “She was very eager to get her life back that I had taken from her, to clean up the mess I had made, and running for mayor was the straightest line to do it,” he said.
Instead it was just the latest curve from the straight line.
Questions still swirl about Abedin’s role in Clinton’s e-mail scandal, and about her being simultaneously paid by private firms and foundations while she was still on staff at the State Department. The untimely release of the documentary could be yet another detour to Abedin “getting her life back,” let alone getting to the West Wing alongside Clinton.
Abedin’s acquiescence to unremitting film belies her professed reticence. “Those of you who know me are probably surprised to see me standing up here,” she says at a fundraiser. “I’m usually back of the room, far away from the microphone as possible.”
Yet she’s not only not far away from the mike, but close to the camera — and controversy. This complex duality may seem duplicitous, yet it may define modern-day politics. That may still seem unnatural to most voters, which may make politicians more remote than ever from those they represent.
Even Weiner senses today’s disconnect when rhetorically reflecting on the sexting, which he compares to “almost like playing a video game.”
“Do my personal relationships suffer because of the superficial and transactional nature of my political relationships, or is it the other way around,” he ponders. “Do you go into politics because you’re not connecting on that other level? And did the technology that undid me allow me to be in touch with people and have kind of more superficial relationships? I don’t know.”
One relationship that’s surely not superficial is the one Weiner and Abedin have with their young son, as the doc depicts a doting dad and mom amid the scandal.
How the son’s generation eventually perceives their parent’s political era is uncertain. But it shouldn’t surprise if regardless of ideology they seek more discreet leaders.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:20 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.