The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Weiner is one of the most riveting and remarkable documentaries I have ever seen. The subject is Anthony Weiner, the former Congressman who made headlines after accidentally sending out a picture of his genitals on Twitter, thinking it was going to just one female follower. Why Weiner consented to allow directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to make this film is a mystery for the ages. Nonetheless, it exists, and we are lucky to have it. You've never witnessed a political documentary quite like this one, guaranteed.

The movie follows Weiner as he attempts to re-enter politics by running for mayor of New York City in 2013. His first step is convincing everyone that he's sorry for his past indiscretions and that he's a changed man. There seems to be some movement on that front, but then he does it again. Using the name “Carlos Danger,” he's caught sending sexually explicit photos to a 22-year-old woman. Weiner refuses to suspend his campaign, instead trying to rally his staff around him as though this isn't the biggest obstacle in the world. Wherever he goes, voters and the media only want to ask him about the scandal. In one of the most compelling scenes, an angry constituent confronts him in a bakery. Weiner, in typical form, fights back, oblivious to the potential repercussions. (The exchange makes national news almost immediately.) Throughout the documentary, we see his frustration grow as he struggles to keep his mayoral campaign afloat in the wake of a fiasco that he himself created. When the public loses trust in him, his poll numbers drop through the floor, a fact he steadfastly refuses to accept.

Weiner is a fascinating study in narcissism. On a surface level, the politician accepts responsibility for the mess he has made, but on a deeper level, he shows resentment that the world won't simply forget about that mess. Reporters, voters, and even his own staff members berate him for abusing their trust. He unhappily takes it, professing contriteness while simultaneously becoming annoyed that no one will allow him to focus on the issues that constitute his platform. It's clear that Weiner has, to a large degree, compartmentalized his behavior, and he wants everyone else to do the same. There's a hollowness in his oft-repeated apology, as though he's expressing remorse simply so he can pick up his career where it left off. At one point, the filmmakers ask him, "Has anyone ever told you it's hard to get you to talk about your feelings?”. His non-answer speaks volumes.

The impression we get of Anthony Weiner is that the same mechanism that led him to send those pictures is the same one that keeps him in the political race. He has no awareness of how his actions hurt those around him, so long as there's something he can gain. And hurt people he does, most notably his wife, Huma Abedin (Hilary Clinton's longtime right-hand woman). Scenes between them are both deeply uncomfortable and undeniably mesmerizing. Abedin dutifully stands by her man, yet her discomfort and embarrassment grow exponentially the longer the film goes on. Weiner repeatedly humiliates her with his immature sexting of other women. Publicly, she supports him; in private, you can literally see her wondering why she's staying with him, knowing full well that people are thinking she's stupid for doing so. It's painful to see a smart, strong woman so thoroughly devastated. Her psychology is just as intriguing as his.

I've long had a theory that every great documentary has a scene so unexpected and remarkable that you can't believe it was captured on camera. Wiener has several. One of them involves Sydney Leathers, the woman he sexted during the mayoral campaign. She contacted Weiner first to express disapproval for his original scandal. It's clear, however, that she's an opportunist who saw a chance to get media attention by opening the door for a repeat performance. (She criticizes him for his lack of moral judgment, then goes on to launch a porn career. You can't make this stuff up.) Spurred on by Howard Stern, Leathers makes a play for her fifteen minutes of fame by attempting to ambush Weiner outside the building where he is scheduled to give his concession speech. A staff member sees her and an evasive action plan is hatched. The cameras follow Weiner as he and his entourage run through a McDonalds to get to a back door leading to the venue, while she frantically runs after him, the panic of losing her moment in the spotlight showing in her eyes.

We're all familiar with political scandals. They're virtually a dime a dozen these days. Weiner shows you what a big one looks like from the inside. It shows how the people involved are affected, the collateral damage that's incurred, and the self-serving (or delusional) mindset that makes politicians keep trying to move forward even after having their flaws laid bare before the public. This is an astonishingly intimate and weirdly funny film. If you have even the most remote interest in politics or human behavior, Weiner is a movie you cannot afford to miss under any circumstances.

( out of four)

Weiner is rated R for language and some sexual material. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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