“If you don’t like what’s being said,” stated “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, “change the conversation.” I don’t know if Anthony Weiner was a “Mad Man” fan, but he certainly took that advice to heart and with good reason.
The former U.S. representative, who resigned from Congress in 2011 over a sexting scandal, fell from grace with a resounding thud heard round the world. Mocked by late night television hosts and on the front cover of The New Yorker, the sordid details of his cyber affairs—he sent provocative pictures to porn stars and people he met online—coupled with the comedic possibilities of his unfortunate last name made him a laughing stock. The collateral damage in the whole affair was Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife and long-time aide to Hillary Clinton.
“Weiner” picks up its fly-on-the-wall coverage with Weiner’s re-emergence into public life. Co-directors Josh Kriegman (who once worked for Weiner) and Elyse Steinberg chronicle the candidate’s New York City mayoral run in May of 2013, warts and all. Just as it looks like the worst is behind him, that he is personally and professionally rehabilitated another sexting scandal erupts—this time he used the online avatar Carlos Danger—effectively derailing his chance at becoming mayor.
It’s here that “Weiner” becomes less a ripped-from-the-news doc and more an up-close-and-personal look at a person whose carefully constructed life is falling apart. He stays in the game, long after it becomes clear his political career is kaput. A bubbling stew of indignation and resentment, the hot-headed ex-politician tries to argue and bully his way into he public’s good graces. Under Kriegman and Steinberg’s steady gaze he tries desperately to change the conversation, deflecting unwanted questions—Lawrence O’Donnell pointedly asks Weiner “What’s wrong with you?”—with a combination of bluster and self righteous anger. It’s not all flattering, but in its cringe-inducing candour it may be the most honest behind-the-scenes doc of recent years.