[Our review of ‘She Said’ can be watched above or read below.]
Focusing in on some of the journalists that played a key role in the takedown of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose long-awaited downfall was a major stepping stone in the wide-encompassing #MeToo movement, it’s fair to say that She Said tackles a sensitive and ultra-timely topic. The film also aims to highlight the importance of investigative journalism, and thus the overall role of the journalist, in an era where the Fourth Estate has often been accused of delivering agenda-driven narratives and clear-cut political leanings.
Clearly, She Said has the grounds to deliver a riveting, gut-punch of a film with a lot to say. Ultimately, while the outcome is a decent enough picture – one that makes its points clearly, respectfully, and as safely as possible – it doesn’t quite reach the heights it could have.
Director Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man, Unorthodox) and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience, Ida) adapt the 2019 book by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, respectively. The story follows these journalists around 2017, as they strive to get victims and associates of Weinstein to speak on the record. Of course, convincing people to publicly announce that they were attacked or in any way aware of what he was up to, was no easy task. Among the big names that were contacted by the reporters were Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rose McGowan. Judd appears in the film, playing herself.
Covering months in Kantor and Twohey’s journey, She Said plays out as a journalistic procedural, with a somewhat episodic structure as the journos unearth troubling accounts and continue to hit walls as the thought of speaking on the record scares off many. Seeing as most viewers will know (or at least have a fair idea of) where Weinstein ended up, it’s up to Schrader and Lenkiewicz to engross us in the journey; the destination is pretty clear.
The investigation is depicted in straightforward fashion – a very familiar procedural formula we’ve seen in journalism films such as Spotlight and All the King’s Men, although I’d say those films worked with the formula more memorably. So, audiences have a mostly comfy structure to follow as Kantor and Twohey have far-from-comfy conversations with individuals that have faced horrible abuse. Topic-wise, it’s no doubt troubling and of-the-moment, but film-wise, it’s a somewhat plodding procedural that lacks energetic crescendos and borders on slightly repetitive as each new person comes into the picture. Now, while that approach may sound like a big negative for this writer, I didn’t find that it made She Said a bad film, per se. It does, however, in my opinion, hold it back from striking up the emotions and giving us much-needed grit. As I said, She Said takes the safest route to deliver its story – and that comes at a cost.
The various conversations themselves do provide some emotional moments – the accounts coming from a couple of victims, in particular, really working up the empathy, anger and injustice that these journalists would have been partially fuelled by. It’s unfortunate that a variety of these conversations have a stage-play feel to them. Again, not a major no-no, but a more cinematic and creative approach to the narrative would have served dividends.
Also, keeping Weinstein, or at least the character of Weinstein here, at arm’s length works well for the most part. The focus is, of course, on the investigation and on the victims. But then having little moments with him, such as a few audio slices on the phone and an in-person tease, feels a little tacked on. Perhaps removing those bits altogether may have made more of a point. Or, perhaps ramping up his presence would have helped paint a stronger picture. After all, it’s that imposing, disgusting presence of his that’s explained as at least a factor in how he maneuvered those around him – and what made it even more nerve-wracking for those considering speaking up.
Thankfully, Kanto and Twohey are well-drawn characters and they’re more than mere narrative movers. Lenkiewicz’s screenplay nicely depicts the frustration and stress that can come with delving into such a case, and our two leads give strong performances that carry us along. You can feel Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan really immersing themselves in their roles. They’re completely engaging as these journalists – and, specifically, women – that find themselves drawn into a deeply affecting investigation that also places them in the public eye. These two stars nail it. Another good touch, in my opinion, is painting Kanto and Twohey as more than their jobs – they are mothers, they are partners, they have families.
A solid supporting cast all round, with good performances of various sizes coming from Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Samantha Morten, and Jennifer Ehle, among others.
This particular story of investigative journalism is certainly one worth telling – and I’ll stress that I didn’t find that it was told badly here, but it could have been much more. She Said is straightforward and surprisingly simple in its approach – from direction to how the plot plays out. Nevertheless, it works on a conventional level, and it – thankfully – benefits greatly from strong performances by Kazan and Mulligan.