Monday, June 6, 2016

Movie Monday: Weiner

In 2010, Congressman Anthony Weiner married Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's most trusted lieutenant and a very calm, very bright, very careful woman.  It was a big, big wedding.  Bill Clinton conducted the ceremony, and Abedin's gown, designed by Oscar de la Renta, was flat-out fabulous.  The portents were auspicious.

Less than 10 months later, when Weiner and Abedin were expected their first child, a problem arose.

Weiner the Movie

This documentary covers no new ground, but its thoughtful approach -- interjecting no comments, simply documenting events as they unfold -- is interesting and strange and funny nonetheless.

It opens with perspective on Weiner's career, which started early and continued through seven Congressional re-elections.  We see him yelling angrily and waving his arms at Republican opponents on the floor of the House -- it's not exactly, "come, let us reason together," but it establishes the stubbornness and intensity that characterize his approach to politics and life.

Then the bomb drops.  Weiner -- he of the infelicitous name -- unintentionally texts a photo of his "package" in tight underwear to his broader mailing list.  After some hemming and hawing, he acknowledges that, no, his phone account was not hacked and that he has been sharing texts and similar photos with various women for some time.  He apologizes sincerely and resigns.

The Comeback

Production of "Weiner" actually began in 2013 when, after two years in exile,  he proclaimed himself reformed and launched a campaign for mayor of New York.

The filmmakers set out to cover the mayoral campaign as a redemption story -- a politician who admits his failings, learns from them, and reclaims his role in politics.  At the time, things were going well.  Weiner's campaign attracted many idealistic young volunteers.  His mother worked the phone bank.  Anthony and Huma worked as a team on fundraising.

Enthusiasm builds. Weiner dances with a large rainbow flag in the city's Gay Pride Parade while crowds cheer him from the sidelines.

Meanwhile Anthony and Huma have a beautiful toddler at home.  Her work for Clinton keeps her busy.  His poll numbers rise and rise.  The crisis has been overcome.  What could go wrong?

We know what went wrong.

Weiner didn't give up the sexting after his resignation from Congress.  He explains that it had been a difficult time in his marriage and that he had returned to old habits, this time under the name Carlos Danger.

He explains that women texted him with messages of support for his political views and that, over time, the conversations turned into discussions of how "hot" he was and then further into exchanges of photos and yadda yadda yadda.

(I don't text much, but when I do, I haven't found that messages transition from the mundane to sex talk.  I suspect my experience is more common than Weiner's, but what do I know?)

The film doesn't establish whether the texting continued after he launched his mayoral campaign, but by that point it didn't matter.

New York probably has more journalists per capita than any other place on the planet, and the coverage was merciless:

 From the New York Post, known for great tabloid headlines, the front-page pitches write themselves:

             -- WEINER: I'LL STICK IT OUT
             --WEINER'S SECOND COMING -- Anthony: Erect Me Mayor

Then there are the late-night comedy show jokes, many of them shown in the film.  It's all very funny, except if you are Anthony or Huma.

The effect is dramatic.  Weiner's previously rising poll numbers plummet and keep on dropping.

"What's wrong with you?" yells a citizen, several times, on a campaign stop.

"You're a real scumbag, Anthony!" shouts another.  Weiner responds: "That's not for you to judge, my friend.  Bigger guys than you have tried to knock me around, and I don't care!"

Even after his pollster tells him that "it's over," Weiner says he wants to keep fighting.  "If you do that again," warns the pollster, "people are going to say, 'I don't want to hear that again.'"

On election day, Weiner tries to convince his wife to go to the polls with him.  She says she doesn't think it's a good idea.  Then she watches him, his attention now elsewhere, as he sits at the kitchen table checking cellphone messages.

(That single image captures the whole story.  Weiner might have had a political future if he'd traded his cell for a flip phone in 2011.)

Weiner finished last in the Democratic primary, effectively the mayoral race.  Afterward, a cameraman in the family home with Weiner, his wife and child asks why the man is allowing himself to be filmed.

Weiner just shrugs.


Toward the end of the documentary, the woman whose text/sext correspondence with Weiner occasioned the second round of scandal is baited into stalking him on election day -- first at his campaign headquarters and then at the traditional post-election party.  Here is a description of the online record that made it onto the classy Buzzfeed website in 2012 and led to the collapse of Weiner's campaign.   

        In May 2011, Leathers sent an innocuous message to (Weiner's) public Facebook page.
        He “poked” her in July 2012. They started exchanging messages, and Weiner turned
        things sexual. Soon they were sending nude photos (with Weiner using the pseudonym
        “Carlos Danger”) and having phone sex as often as five times a day. Their dialogue
        was as prolific as it was erotically articulate.

This comes from a May 2016 New York Magazine profile called Sydney Leathers: The Secret Struggle of the Woman Who Took Down Weiner.  Find it on the magazine website or my interesting-stuff companion site,


What is it with male politicians in New York?

Elliott Spitzer, the New York governor who was run out of office in 2008 after revelations that he had frequented high-end call-girl operations (after busting such agencies as state attorney general), attempted a much more modest comeback, running for city comptroller in 2013. He lost in the Democratic primary.
More recently, then-divorced Spitzer was said to be dating a 31-year-old woman who worked as a Democratic press officer in New York.  This relationship reportedly ended after Spitzer was involved in some never-explained unpleasantness with a Russian prostitute in a room at the Plaza Hotel.

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