Anthony Weiner is the American politician who made a comeback after a sexting scandal and stood for New York mayor. He was topping the polls, when a second sexting scandal broke, which proves what, probably, none of us had suspected all along: that thing you do where you send women pictures of your erect penis must be awfully hard to quit. This fly on the wall documentary was, happily, already filming Weiner and his fascinating wife (Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s long time aide) when his career imploded, and the result is as supremely entertaining, painfully funny and queasily riveting as you might have hoped, with one caveat: why is it so awfully hard to quit? Why is it so awfully hard not to press ‘send’? And one other caveat: what is this fascinating woman doing married to this dumb ass liar of a man? We never quite get to the bottom of either of those.
First, a bit of background. Weiner was a Democratic congressman and a rising star when, in 2011, he was caught tweeting sleazy messages and pictures of his penis to various female groupies. Although at first he denied everything, said it wasn’t his pecker — he’s a busy guy, so maybe he hadn’t looked for a while and failed to recognise it? — he eventually confessed and was forced to resign. This film, from directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, opens two years later by which time he’s put the scandal behind him, so he says — ‘I’m a different man’; ‘Never again’ — and has entered the mayoral race with the full support of his wife. He and Huma, he says, are fed up of living in a ‘defensive crouch’. Huma, I have to say, seems way out of his league. She’s not just a high flyer in her own right, but gorgeous to boot. She says at the beginning: ‘It was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in the marriage.’ She may have, at some point, attended the Clinton School of Forgiveness, which is said to be very, very good (the leader in its field). Was that it?
As for Weiner, he is wiry, noisy, fiery, flamboyant, energetic. He loves a parade. Gay parades, pro Israel parades, any parade and there he is, boisterously waving his flag. He assembles a team. The electorate appear willing to give him a second chance. It’s all going swell and, heck, it looks as if he may even win when bam!, the second wave of scandal hits. The timeline is vague but, as far as I could gather, after resigning from Congress and after his show of contrition (but before entering the mayoral race) he’d sent further dick pics and messages to a number of women. One such message asked: ‘Would you let me hold your hair while you gagged on my cock?’ (This made me gag in and of itself; I held my own hair.)
The mood changes, needless to say, and the cameras capture everything. His team feel betrayed. Donald Trump has his say: ‘We don’t want perverts elected in New York City.’ Meanwhile, Weiner bats his transgressions away as if they are trivialities, becomes dementedly combative if pressed, refuses to resign, and clings on. Voters desert him. A senior adviser quits. And Huma? Who has been lied to again? And humiliated again? And who is the mother of their son, then two years old? She is obviously devastated. The tension between them becomes unbearable. At one point she sends the cameras away, which is, in fact, a relief. She decides to stick with him (and remains with him to this day; go figure) but her body language often tells another story. It’s arms crossed, from the other side of the room. And a media circus then ensues that’s as unedifying and horrible as anything else. It even culminates in Weiner racing through a McDonald’s to avoid a woman he’s sexted, and whom the press have put in his path. You will often have to watch through your fingers, so cringe inducing are some of the scenes.
But why? Why? Why do it again, when you must know the risks? Must know it could mean career suicide? Must know it could bring shame to your family? Weiner himself offers no answers. Does he fundamentally hate women? Did Huma fail to provide him with the adoration he so craves? Is he one of those men who can’t find sex thrilling unless it is somehow taboo? Or is he just a dumb ass liar, plain and simple? I can only tell you that when it came to the election he finished in last place. The penis did for him in the end, despite the fact it was always ‘nice and hard’. I’ll hold my own hair...