When “Weiner”premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it captured a public family coming apart at the seams. Now, with Anthony Weiner’s third sexting scandal and spouse Huma Abedin announcing their separation, that process is complete — and the documentary earns ever greater resonance as it foreshadows a collapse that has now come to fruition.
The movie documents blow-by-self-inflicted blow how the former congressman stepped down after accidentally tweeting a photo of his crotch. Even after making amends and regaining public trust during his 2013 mayoral run, all became undone with another online flirtation under the inane internet pseudonym “Carlos Danger” (which, inexplicably, he recycled in this latest peccadillo). Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Sternberg captured the losing battle in extraordinary detail, pitting sympathy for Weiner as passionate defender of working-class values against behavior that paints him as a pathological and self-destructive narcissist.
However, while Weiner’s struggles provide the movie with cringe-worthy black comedy, Abedin’s attempts to survive the mayhem infuse the film’s tragic core. Her role in “Weiner” gives us the best supporting performance of the year: She’s constantly on the margins, looking at her husband with a mixture of contempt and sadness. As the latest revelations unravels his mayoral bid, the couple find themselves virtually alone in his office, locked in a gaze that epitomizes the rage and frustration simmering between them. As Weiner tries to recall the timeline of his online flirtations, the better to get the story right for the press, Abedin reminds him: “It was back when we were talking about separating.” That remark now carries more unsettling reverberations — why now, and not then?
The Weiner saga is grotesque, and salacious, but its cinematic narrative begs for deeper reading of the story, but the “Weiner” sequel is playing out in real time. In a press conference during Weiner’s ill-fated campaign, Abedin declared that her family’s private life was just that — but the documentary transformed them into avatars of the crushing pressures entailed by public life.
While no one can be surprised by Abedin’s decision to leave Weiner, his most recent indiscretions face an entirely different pressure now that the Clinton campaign has surged into its final days. The film foreshadows this as well, as Abedin makes passing reference to “Philippe” — almost certainly Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime senior advisor, who knows Weiner’s foibles spell PR trouble for the Clinton camp. And so it’s apparently his call when Abedin stays home on election day, leaving Weiner to visit the polls with their child serving as the family’s proxy. When he arrives to vote, surrounding by flashing cameras, the boy begins to cry.
Abedin was pregnant with their son during Weiner’s initial downfall from public office. If the Weiner-Abedin family’s resilience came down to a commitment to their child, Weiner sullied that bond in his latest sexting antics, which found him sharing photos of his sleeping toddler with the anonymous subject of his flirtatious texts. “Anthony and I remain devoted to doing what is best for our son, who the light of our life,” Abedin said in a release announcing their separation. “Weiner” proves as much: the couple only appears remotely happy when they’re playing with their child. With that sacred connection imperiled, there’s nothing left to salvage.
No matter its heartbreaking connotations, the latest news carries the whiff of salvation for a woman who has so long shouldered the burden of another person’s insuppressible hubris and self-destructive urges. Her willingness to stand by her husband’s side in “Weiner” is its biggest puzzle piece, a fascinating testament to marital commitment and careerist desires. But these moments also smother appreciation for her own professional accomplishments, which may soon deserve a movie of their own. The brutal irony of “Weiner” is that its title obscures the real star of the show.