Monday, 7 November 2016

Fleapit revisited:Weiner

It's easy, and correct, to hate Donald Trump for the crass, xenophobic, misogynistic, bullying things he says. It's easy to hate the bad guys but what about when one of the good guys, one of our guys transgress? That's more problematic and that's what Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's feature length documentary Weiner is about.

They don't mess about. In the first couple of minutes the tone is set as we see Congressman Anthony Weiner as man of the people, fighting the good fight against bureaucrats and party apparatchiks, before, almost immediately, we're introduced to his sexting habits. Compared to Trump's boasts of pussy grabbing and Bill Clinton's antics with cigars Weiner's schtick is pretty tame. He takes a photo of his bulging briefs and sends them to women. An ill advised move at any time but when running to be mayor of New York City, and handsomely leading in the polls, potentially suicidal.

What with his unfortunate name as well the press go apeshit. The headlines write themselves. When it's discovered he's used the pseudonym Carlos Danger it gets better still for them, and worse for both Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, herself a high profile public figure. During the film's making Abedin was serving as deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton and now, for one more day at least, vice chairwoman of her presidential campaign. Hillary's so fond of Huma she's likened her to a second daughter.

On the surface Weiner and Abedin are the perfect example of the very best of multicultural New York. A Jewish boy from Brooklyn married to an Arabic speaking Muslim. Their son even has a Latino name. Bases have been covered and continue to be. We see Weiner supporting, and receiving support, from the black and Ecuadorean communities. We see him on a gay pride march. We see him DJ'ing. He loves the spotlight and the spotlight loves him.

But stories about his sexting continue to emerge and continue to dominate the discussion. He's torn between lying and brazening it out but at no point, at least in the film, does he consider quitting. We see his team as torn as he is and eventually, predictably, we see his poll ratings start to plummet.

The professional arc of the story, whilst fascinating to watch, won't particularly surprise you. But how does this affect Weiner and Abedin in their home life? At first they seem to have got through it but there's something about Huma's body language, the constant crossing of the arms, the forced smile, that seems to speak louder than her words.

What's her motivation? People more cynical than myself may suggest she's just looking out for herself and her boss Hillary. It's suggested she genuinely loves this guy and is struggling to come to terms with what he's done. A third theory is that Weiner, like many initially attractive and spellbinding figures, is simply a bully and a psychopath and she's been crushed by her time with him. I'd guess a bit of all three.

Certainly Weiner doesn't always help his own case. In public he demands questions about policies, not his private life, yet at home he watches his arguments with news anchors and journalists over and over again much to the dismay of those around him. Even when insulted in the street he gives as good back as he gets. He can't let it lie. Although contrite at times often he's fiery and unapologetic and, I've learnt, people like this are the most likely to repeat their mistakes.

You're torn between supporting him and grabbing him by the lapels and telling him to pull himself together. He comes across as both highly likeable and highly unlikeable. He does good things but he does bad things too. In that case he's not unlike any one of us but there's something of his self-regarding nature that comes through as the film progresses. It could be down to the editing but not once does he seem to consider the impact he's had on his team, his family, or, of course, the women who receive these often unwarranted messages.

On this final point the film fails. None of the women's cases are put forward until near the end when we meet Sydney Leathers who, cajoled by shock jock Howard Stern, uses the whole thing to try and generate publicity for herself and, more pertinently, Stern. She doesn't come across particularly well and I can't believe that all Weiner's victims/text recipients were of this nature. It's hinted many were just keen supporters of his political ideas.

Although it's a sad story it's a funny film. A documentary, that as my friend Ian said, looks in places more like a mockumentary. A cockumentary perhaps? You'll laugh. You'll sigh. You'll shake your head. So singular is the case it'll give you very little insight into the murky world of politics but the human drama played out at the heart of it doesn't, despite its peculiarities, look too different to many others being enacted in homes all across the world right now.

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