From the viewpoint of disgraced Democratic ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, it probably seemed like a good idea. After a spectacular fall from grace, when he accidentally tweeted a photo of his erect penis to his thousands of twitter followers, the supposedly chastened Weiner decided to run for mayor of New York City in 2013.

Convinced of a political comeback, the charismatic Weiner gave full documentary access to his former chief of staff, Josh Kriegman and co-director Elyse Klingman. Weiner had yet another ace up his sleeve. Goading him on was the loyal wife and mother of his child, power broker Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s closest adviser in her current presidential campaign.

The first thirty minutes of Weiner finds the scrappy underdog gaining traction with wary New York voters who want to believe the candidate has given up sexting his female admirers. But then it all comes crashing down. New phone sex allegations arise well after Weiner’s original mea culpa. Any chance of redemption becomes a chaotic, gleeful media takedown of Weiner who quixotically decides to continue the race despite the toll on his marriage and the sheer impossibility of winning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ4FIGnJknk

It’s depressing but the timely Weiner will probably become a documentary cornerstone about the intimate workings of the American electoral process alongside Robert Drew’s seminal Primary (1960) and Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s Clinton victory chronicle The War Room (1993). The difference is that Weiner is not about triumph but instead captures the nominee’s fiery, self-destructive crash to earth from directly inside the cockpit. Klingman and Kriegman’s nuanced document is compellingly cringeworthy and thoroughly entertaining, often in the same scene.

Once the new sexting scandal breaks, Weiner and Abedin try to quickly figure out a statement while the press jockeys for standing room outside their office. Weiner asks his assistant to leave but allows the camera to remain. As the couple scrambles to contain the damage, the television begins to show Anthony Weiner’s latest penis photos; pictures not yet seen by Abedin. The painful silence that ensues is an astonishing kidney punch of grief and collapse, the end of his election chances and their marriage (Weiner and Abedin separated this August).

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