She Said, 2022.
Directed by Maria Schrader.
Starring Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, Adam Shapiro, Maren Heary, Sean Cullen, Anastasia Barzee, Keilly McQuail, Hilary Greer, Wesley Holloway, Emma Clare O’Connor, Justine Colan, Edward Astor Chin, Ashley Chiu, Zach Grenier, John Mazurek, Sarah Ann Masse, Maren Lord, Tom Pelphrey, Davram Stiefler, Mike Houston, George Walsh, and Ashley Judd.
New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor break one of the most important stories in a generation — a story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood.
An influx of films examining former powerful producer Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual abuse is inevitable. The expose by New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor shook up the industry, so it’s a no-brainer to attempt exploring that on-screen. Naturally, projects delving into highly sensitive subject material still fresh in minds could easily go sideways for several reasons. Director Maria Schrader’s She Said (with a screenplay from Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the book by the two aforementioned valiant reporters) wisely takes a safe, dry, fact-based approach that respects the survivors and their trauma. Simply telling the story through dramatized journalism investigation is the logical way to go for the first major film tackling the Miramax mogul.
Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor are played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, respectively, one with more experience than the other. The former has had some success encouraging women to speak up on sexual harassment (the film’s opening sequence briefly takes a look at the circus that was the 2016 US presidential election and the cancellation of Bill O’Reilly), teaming up with Jodi, who is looking into reports of sexual abuse in Hollywood, imparting wisdom on how to speak to the victims and explain to them the good that can be accomplished by going on record with the truth. Their presence as characters in the film is valuable and necessary, working towards a common goal with different levels of experience in the journalistic field. A lesser film would create a composite character.
She Said further walks the tightrope by implementing real-life audio detailing various sexual assaults. Smartly, Maria Schrader keeps the violence offscreen, focusing on harrowing still images of rooms and hallways whenever flashing back as characters recount horrific abuse. Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle walk away as notable scene-stealers, expressing a great deal of inner pain and torment as they search for the bravery to step forward publicly. Of course, there are also NDAs and settlements, with sickening levels of silence enforced. In some instances, survivors appear in the film playing themselves to provide an extra dose of raw authenticity (I can’t even begin to imagine how mentally draining and taxing it must be to return back to those psychological places to reenact some of these conversations on screen).
By deploying all of the above and more, She Said comes dangerously close to coming off as an exploitative true crime documentary disguised as a narrative feature but never crosses that line due to the script’s restraint and sensitivity. However, some instances of Megan and Jodi interacting with critical individuals over the phone are sometimes awkward and inorganic. I can only assume that it’s the result of taking actual audio or real words recited by actors and wedging them into phone conversations (like trying to force a square peg into a round hole). It’s not necessarily bad, but more so noticeable and distracting.
The script also avoids the usual pitfalls of taking viewers deep into the private lives of the journalists, although She Said does occasionally try. It often results in unwieldy conversations that feel forced (there’s a digital call where Jodi’s young daughter starts asking questions about rape). Then there are small moments where dialogue exchanges between Megan and Jodi are stilted. For as thoughtful and considerate as the screenplay is during anything involving the investigative procedure and the stories of survivors, there is plenty here that could have used a rewrite.
As for Harvey Weinstein himself, the decision to implement him as a menacing voice making angry phone calls to the newsroom furiously wanting to know who the reporters have been talking to is a stroke of brilliance that plays into the recent trend of keeping evil and abuse offscreen, but his presence felt in other, equally dramatically impactful ways. When he does finally appear in the movie (or rather the back of his head), it’s akin to finally getting a look at the monster of a creature feature. Not to mention, Natasha Braier finds a devastating visual in utilizing a slow zoom, shifting from the back of that grotesque head to the facial expressions of a reporter face-to-face with a real-life bogeyman. Meanwhile, Nicholas Britell assembles another measured score that never becomes too overbearing.
There’s also nothing especially groundbreaking or masterful about She Said. It’s a solid rundown of the investigation with searing performances from the victims, tight pacing, and a refusal to get too melodramatic. As an icebreaker for Harvey Weinstein films, She Said has the correct approach centering the women (journalists and victims) and makes the right choices. I say it’s great.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com