What is it about career politicians – the good and the bad – that makes them crave attention? I don’t distinguish attention as good or bad here, since for these people all attention is good. It’s like fuel that never burns out, or a drug that doesn’t have a rehab program. There is no learning curve or accepted comeuppance, but instead constant reward. It’s a sickness. It’s sick. They are sick. What we consume is sick. And there is no roof to any of it.
The new film "Weiner", released last week, follows upfront and personally Anthony Weiner, politician from the state of New York. Early on, it is established just who he was and what he was known for: speaking loudly and proudly for voters, sometimes brutishly, but always assertive in his arguments and sensitive to the plight of others. This footage makes up… maybe two minutes.
Then, rather quickly, and without warning, Weiner tweets that infamous underwear bulge pic, leading to questions with confusing answers and cockeyed looks sent his way. Trying to keep it from his wife was the initial plan, but I suspect a plot of lying to himself as well. In the pantheon of political oopsies, Weiner’s bulge has got to be on the lower end. It’s embarrassing for sure, and very inappropriate, but not worth the press conferences and coverage it got.
It’s amazing how much trust there was between Anthony and the filmmakers, because this documentary has such near unprecedented, bare naked soul bearing. It rivals the brilliant and thrilling Citizenfour in how it treats its subjects. The production makes sure to connect the dots to tell this story deeper than the words, but never did I get the feeling that judgment was being passed.
Even when things were at their worst for Weiner – like when he has aides hide him behind a door in the back of a McDonald's to avoid confronting one of his sexting partners – the camera never thinks less of him. How could it, witnessing such low points in his career and life? To kick him when down would’ve been trashy. "Weiner" sees no glory in the tabloid, but rather in capturing the self and what the self represents. And what Anthony Weiner’s most downward of spirals represents is an obsession with being documented and an addiction to chaos.
“Why did you let us film all of this?” the cameraman asks Anthony at the end of his 2014 campaign for mayor of New York City. All he can give as an answer is a shrug and a frown. Faced with people calling him a pervert and an adulterer, faced with getting into screaming matches on TV and faced with a wife – Huma Abedin, a close confidante and adviser of Hillary Clinton – who has clearly had enough, Anthony is at once defeated and determined.
Defeated by losing control of the narrative around him and determined to turn it all around, even and especially when the pain looks cyclical. Everyone around him knows it. We know it. Why doesn’t he know it? Why doesn’t he just stop? Stop the running, stop the recording and stop the humiliation? He can’t. He. Just. Can’t.
This "Weiner" is a comedy of errors and a tragedy of modern proportions. Sure, it’s head shakingly humorous and even eye rollingly awkward to see how far a man can dig his own grave, but it’s a sad state of affairs to do so, isn’t it? To revel at the folly of others? Maybe this isn’t supposed to be entertainment. Maybe this is supposed to be a tell tale sign. A sign of the times. Maybe.
It’s up to speculation as to the why behind Weiner's addiction to self destruction, but clear as crystal is the fact of his gravitational pull towards the black hole of his own making. We are in a society of 24/7 news and 24/7 reactions in real time to the news. There is no time for deep breaths or time for proper reflection. It’s all immediate. We want it all and we want it now. Keep hitting refresh, and you just might see that celebrity you follow has retweeted you. Or sent a dick pic to your timeline. OMG!
Bill Arceneaux is an independent film critic from New Orleans and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association.