Review: “She Said”

It goes without saying that the New York Times’ October 2017 breaking of their investigation into sexual misconduct by influential Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein is the single most influential piece of journalism of the last decade. Investigated by Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the story’s publication resulted in 82 women coming forward with accusations against Weinstein, as well as serving as a catalyst for the #MeToo movement, prompting women all over the world to disclose the times they have been harassed and abused. Kantor and Twohey chronicled their investigative process the following year in a 2018 book titled She Said, which is now a film directed by Maria Schrader—an important story that perhaps comes off as too self-aware of its own importance to fully work as a technically well-made movie.

Zoe Kazan (whose performance struggles to convincingly nail the film’s more emotionally fraught moments) and Carey Mulligan (who effectively conveys her character’s determination and frustration) play Kantor and Twohey, respectively. When we first meet Twohey in the film, she is pregnant with her first child and breaking a story of allegations of sexual misconduct against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Her experience in talking to women and convincing them to come forward—despite their fears of retaliation—prompts Kantor to enlist her help in her investigation into Weinstein, who allegedly lured female employees into what they thought were business meetings, only to take advantage of their vulnerability. But the women hit obstacles at every turn, every victim refusing to go on the record, but providing the reporters with just enough breadcrumbs for them to push forward. The women they talk to range from well-known movie stars like Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow (who both play themselves in the film), and Rose McGowan, to former Weinstein assistants like Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton in a powerful, scene-stealing performance) and Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle). As Kantor and Twohey dig deeper, Weinstein himself becomes aware of the investigation and sends his lawyer in to deny any wrongdoing.

Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in “She Said”

Schrader’s direction is straightforward and not at all showy in a way that might not make for the most compelling cinematic entertainment (lotta phone calls, lotta typing), but that appropriately doesn’t deter from the women’s stories of having their voices silenced and their lives and careers shattered by a man who got away with it because he could. “She Said” is at its most riveting when either Kantor or Twohey are speaking to their sources, who recount what was done to them and what they witnessed happen to others with palpable bitterness, sadness, and fear. Their stories are important, but when the action moves to the newsroom—Schrader spends a lot of time on the meticulous details of reporting, from the countless meetings with lawyers, sources, and editors, to the editing of the actual piece—the film becomes weighted down with a consciousness of its own importance. Both Kantor and Twohey remind the audience of this frequently as they push forward through every roadblock, as do their supportive editors Dean Baquet (a memorable Andre Braugher) and Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson). On the one hand, “She Said” works as a testament to the power of dogged investigative reporting to achieve real change (in addition to a heightened awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, Weinstein is serving time in New York while trials in other cities are still ongoing). On the other, the narrative that unfolds on screen struggles to match the imperative nature of its subject matter, from its frequently sluggish pacing to how it (aided by Nicholas Britell’s dramatic score) plays up certain moments (the final acquiescence of some sources to go on the record, for instance) for an emotional payoff that feels a tad forced.

“She Said” is overall a mixed bag: an important true story brought to life by a capable director and solid cast, and one that should be noted takes the time to examine the effects the investigation has on the home life and mental well-being of the reporters mired in it, but that’s alternately too dry and too reaching too hard to work, despite some genuinely emotionally affecting scenes. It admirably centers women in this story from the very opening shot, in which the camera picks out women of all ages and races out of the crowded Manhattan streets; but a sequence like that is also an early indicator of how overly-aware the film is of what it needs to achieve, and rather than feeling cathartic, it fumbles as a result. Although if anything, the release of the film itself has proved it is imperative to keep on these stories: see Hollywood Reporter film critic Scott Feinberg’s recent tweet responding to the box office underperformance of “She Said,” in which he posed the question, “You know who would have handled the rollout of this movie very different, were he not featured in it and incarcerated?” (that tweet has since been delete, but you can view the screenshotted exchange here). Furthermore, “She Said” is produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment; Pitt’s participation in both this movie and another of this year’s heavy-hitters about women being sexually abused, Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” too ironic not to note, given the evidence that’s recently come to light regarding his acts of violence toward his children and ex-wife Angelina Jolie. “She Said” may frame its fist-pumping conclusion as a victory for women (and in a way, it is), but it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of worked needed to do in Hollywood across the board.

“She Said” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 129 minutes. Rated R.

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