'Weiner' Is An Intriguingly Nuanced Look At An Easy Punch Line Two years after he was caught texting crotch shots, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was back in the spotlight, running for mayor. A new documentary chronicles his scandal-plagued campaign.
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'Weiner' Is An Intriguingly Nuanced Look At An Easy Punch Line

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'Weiner' Is An Intriguingly Nuanced Look At An Easy Punch Line

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'Weiner' Is An Intriguingly Nuanced Look At An Easy Punch Line

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Congressman Anthony Weiner inspired countless headline puns a few years back, when he was caught texting provocative selfies. Then he ran for mayor of New York and went from tabloid punch line to political punching bag. Remarkably, he let a film crew record it all. The result is a documentary called simply "Wiener." Here's critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The film introduces us first to the Anthony Weiner his constituents thought they knew - fiery, progressive, principled, railing at his fellow congressmen like a latter-day Mr. Smith gone to Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY WEINER: It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes.

MONDELLO: Then comes the very public sexting scandal.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: A photo of an anonymous man's bulging underwear...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: ...Was tweeted from Congressman Weiner's account.

MONDELLO: And the equally public fall from grace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEINER: Today, I'm announcing my resignation from Congress.

MONDELLO: And that, figured most observers, was that. Weiner's marriage to Huma Abedin, an adviser to Hillary Clinton, appeared to have survived the scandal. But the presumption in those circles was that his political career had not. Wiener himself, though, felt differently.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WEINER")

WEINER: The punch line is true about me. I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of other things, too.

MONDELLO: So he announced his candidacy for mayor of New York, which is when filmmakers Josh Kriegman, who was his former aide, and Elyse Steinberg entered the picture. Candidate Weiner granted them seemingly unlimited access to his home and his campaign, which means they're there when things are going well. Weiner actually led in the polls for a while.

But they're also there with a second scandal breaks - more racy photos sent after Weiner had supposedly learned his lesson. The cameras capture the humiliations visited on the candidate's remarkably composed wife, as well as the awkward strategy sessions with staffers who are suddenly tasked with damage control and with untangling who said what to whom when.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WEINER")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Can I just say multiple people, or is it just this one?

WEINER: I think you've got to - I mean, there was more than one, so I think we've got to answer the question. The problem was that a series of interviews that I did when I got in the race...

MONDELLO: ...As you as you can hear, housing in the Bronx has been pushed to a back burner. Weiner sometimes deflects on camera. At one point, he argues that the media just needs a villain, and he's it. But when the filmmakers push, he also cops more than once to being responsible for the pain he's caused his family and the disappointment he's been to his supporters.

Given all that, it is reasonable to ask - and in fact, at one point the filmmakers do ask - why are you letting us film? They don't get a real answer, but they do continue to get access, which means their documentary provides an insider's view of what happens on the campaign trail when questions turn unanswerable.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WEINER")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: What is wrong with you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Why should we trust your judgment?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Your brother said that your father never hugged you.

MONDELLO: And what happens to a political animal when he's so done in by his own hubris that even his considerable rhetorical gifts...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WEINER")

WEINER: I am profoundly sorry. And for that, I am profoundly sorry.

MONDELLO: ...Are no longer enough to redeem him. I'm Bob Mondello.

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