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If there's anyone who still thinks politics is boring, the fascinating and thought-provoking documentary "Weiner" will cure that misconception.
In telling the as-it-happens story of the fall, rise and fall of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg tell a moving story that has everything an adrenaline junkie would want in a movie: high drama, low comedy, sexual intrigue, marital strife and even a chase scene.
The movie which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival also presents an incisive portrait of a politician struggling against his own hubris, a wife torn between love and public betrayal, and a national media machine gorging itself on the gaudy spectacle of it all.
Anthony Weiner was a fiery, combative politician from Brooklyn, a seven-term Democrat in the House of Representatives. His rising star was knocked off course in 2011, when it was found that he had salacious text-message conversations with young women, including a photo of a telltale bulge in his underwear. Weiner resigned from Congress and went back to Brooklyn with his wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton.
In 2013, as the scandal subsides, Weiner jumps back into the fray, running for mayor of New York City. He campaigns hard and is leading in the polls until more of his sexting activities, some of which happened after he resigned from Congress, go public.
The scandal followed Karl Marx's observation about history, because the second wave was definitely a farce. There was Weiner's ridiculous alias, Carlos Danger, and the fact that one recipient of his penis pics, Sydney Leathers, cashed in by making a porno film inspired by the incident.
That's what the world saw as Weiner's career crashed and burned for a second time. What "Weiner" the movie shows is what the inferno looked like from the inside.
Kriegman, a former staffer in Weiner's district office, was near him through almost all of the campaign, capturing 400 hours of footage. That access gives the movie insight into Weiner's passionate stump speeches, his ease working crowds and the incessant need for fundraising.
A lot of that footage features Weiner with Abedin, who is shown in two modes. Before Weinergate 2.0, she is a smart behind-the-scenes organizer who gradually emerges as a sunny, smiling campaigner in her own right. After the scandal resurfaces, she is shown publicly defending her husband while carefully measuring the "optics" as the media encircle the campaign and their lives.
The media become a third player in this tale of revelation and response, as both the mainstream reporters and fringe players hello, Howard Stern take shots at Weiner and, in a spasm of armchair psychoanalysis, Abedin. But even Weiner can't fault the media, because, as he says early in the film, "I did the thing."
What Kriegman and Steinberg capture in "Weiner" is more than one politician on the ropes, furiously mounting damage control for self-inflicted wounds, his struggles playing out on the front pages. It's also a thoughtful, real-time examination of how our current politics works as trivialities and personal quirks are magnified and substantive issues are pushed to the edges.
A fascinating, action-packed documentary follows the attempted second chapter in ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner's political life.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, June 3.
Rating • R for language and some sexual material.
Running time • 96 minutes.