"Weiner" (2016) Retrospect Review
Well, this situation changed a lot.
Weiner was my favorite documentary that came out that year. To be fair, it was almost always going to be my favorite documentary that year no matter it's quality. Back in July of 2013, I remembered feverishly following Anthony Weiner's second sexting scandal. After all, how could anyone forget the plethora of headlines framed around Carlos Danger? I have a strange obsession with political scandals like this (on a slightly related note, it's too bad that there wasn't a documentary crew around for Eliot Spitzer's downfall in 2008), so to see this one from a new angle was truly fascinating for me.
However, a year after it's release, the documentary doesn't quite feel the same. But before digging into my new thoughts on Weiner, let's give the actual content of the documentary in its 2016 time frame its due:
From the outset, the documentary Weiner acknowledges the two most important aspects of the politician at its center. Namely his fiery (and strangely likable) personality, and his first scandal's devastating impact. Anthony Weiner sees the doomed mayoral campaign as his Hail Mary pass to get back into the political game. The beginning tries to set him up for the comeback narrative we like to see in our fiction. But this isn't fiction, and when the crippling reality of July 23rd sinks in, the documentary becomes a flurry of chaos, recovery, and self-destruction at a personal and political level.
If you don't remember what it was like to absorb the news clips in 2013, the documentary's expert editing will. Shots from the documentary crew's point of view are cut seamlessly with news footage, campaign ads, and more. Even if you know the story as well as I did, the part of the story that's worth seeing is Huma Abedin try and maintain during the scandal. She rarely speaks words, but speaks all in glances and silence at her husband.
There are countless mini documentaries and even full length documentaries on political scandals out there, but none of them have the access to its subject the way that Weiner does. A documentary like this only rolls around every once and a while, so I can't recommend seeing it enough, regardless of personal politics.
However, there's now a caveat to watching Weiner, one that didn't exist when the documentary was released initially. Weiner debuted in January 2016 at that year's Sundance Film Festival, and like many documentaries in the film festival circuit, it's release to the public didn't happen for many more months. While Weiner was available for On Demand streaming as early as May in the United States, it's debut on the channel Showtime was on October 22nd, 2016. The reason that date is significant is because it's after August 28th, 2016, the date when Anthony Weiner's third sexting scandal broke, which finally lead to a separation between him and his wife, Huma Abedin.
Between that fateful day in August and the October premiere, there were rumors that Showtime would add a postscript to the documentary acknowledging the third scandal and their separation. I don't have access to Showtime, so I can't tell you if the postscript is on their service (it wasn't on the DVD copy I have). If they haven't, the documentary needs a postscript now more than ever as the third scandal has escalated to an unprecedented level, even for Anthony Weiner.
On May 19th of this year, Anthony Weiner surrendered to the FBI in a plea bargain that acknowledges a horrifying truth: the infamous former congressman had sent pictures of himself to a minor. His guilty plea marks him as a soon-to-be registered sex offender. He may actually spend time in prison.
I don't think it's necessarily the duty of documentary filmmakers to constantly update their own work, but in the case of Weiner, it's hard to avoid. A re-release with a far more sobering epilogue almost feels required at this point because the current epilogue attached to it tries to set Anthony Weiner up for another attempt at a comeback of some kind. As someone who has followed the Anthony Weiner story for literally years, if only feels right to acknowledge the depths to which he has plunged. His sentencing trial will be in September, so maybe Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg can find a way to incorporate that news into a new epilogue of a future DVD release, or something like that.
After all of that, I will say that I'm not a fan of making demands of artists. If Kriegman and Steinberg wish to leave Weiner as is, then so be it. It's still one of the best documentaries on politics that I've ever seen, a horrifying exposure of a schadenfreude spectacle of the highest order, but an epilogue with this year's updates feels like the closure it needs.