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In spite of its flaws, She Said is a powerful take on a true life travesty

She Said

Carey Mulligan & Zoe Kazan star as the real-life journalists who brought Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse to gruesome light.

For most people contemplating going to see She Said, the screen adaptation of the 2019 best-seller by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey chronicling their ground-breaking investigation of Harvey Weinstein, three questions may come to mind. How graphic is the film going to be regarding the crimes he perpetuated over the years against hundreds of women unfortunate enough to cross his path? How will it handle the representation of the well-known personalities who were critical elements of the story, ranging from Weinstein himself to the famous actresses who were among his victims? Finally, as films chronicling journalists as they break hugely important stories go, how does it stack up against the likes of All the President’s Men, still the gold standard of the genre, or more recent examples like Spotlight or The Post?

For starters, the film does not depict the assaults in explicit visual detail. Instead, they’re conveyed via descriptions during interviews, occasional flashbacks of victims in obvious shock and distress afterward or lingering looks at the luxury hotel rooms where many of these crimes took place. As for the depiction of the famous people, the film wisely avoids bringing in actors to awkwardly impersonate them—while Ashley Judd plays herself, others like Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow are referred to without being seen. Weinstein, who is heard throughout, is only seen in one key scene in which he’s shown from behind. Finally, while the film as a whole does not quite live up to the likes of All the President’s Men, it’s still a sturdy, sensitive, and fairly effective look at how this story managed to finally emerge from the shadows, without ever coming across as voyeuristic or exploitative.

Following a brief prologue set in Ireland in 1992, the film opens in 2016 with Kantor (Zoe Kazan), tipped off to McGowan’s rape accusations against Weinstein, beginning an investigation into the mogul, despite knowing that others have tried to tell the story in the past with little success. She is soon joined by Twohey (Carey Mulligan), whose reporting of the bad behavior of presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines around the world but proved not to be a deal-breaker for millions of voters. Together, they begin pursuing leads, ranging from the likes of Paltrow and Judd to any number of former assistants, only to discover that they are bound by NDAs and settlements that forbid them to speak on the record about what happened.

With the backing of editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and chief Dean Bacquet (Andre Braugher), Kantor and Twohey track down leads all over the world, trying to convince some of these victims to finally go on the record. Two of the more significant testimonies come from former assistants Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh), both of whom are bound by NDAs but who point them in important directions. Another key figure is Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), who we saw in her younger days in that Irish prologue, and who now, at an already emotionally fraught moment, has to decide whether to speak out. Weinstein eventually gets wind of the investigation and tries to shut it down, resorting to lawyers to learn who’s been talking to outright intimidation. Adding to the pressure on Kantor and Twohey is news that Ronan Farrow is also working on a Weinstein story of his own that could potentially beat them to publication.

She Said
She Said (Universal Pictures)

For the most part, She Said is a reasonably well-done examination of what went into uncovering the story that helped to topple Weinstein, exposing both his abuse of women in the entertainment industry and his considerable power and influence that allowed him to get away with it for so long. Director Maria Schrader (whose previous film was the fascinating I’m Your Man) and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz keep the narrative moving along at a steady clip (it clocks in at over two hours but doesn’t feel nearly that long) without getting too bogged down in legalese. They also made the smart decision to not overemphasize the more famous names involved in the story—although Judd does reach a point of prominence, the lesser-known victims are given equal time and importance.

In fact, the film’s single best scene is the one in which Kantor meets with Perkins, performed with a pitch-perfect depiction of cold ferocity by a never-better Morton. Both Mulligan and Kazan are quiet, capturing the dogged tenacity of Kantor and Twohey as they pursue their story, capturing both their excitement as they begin to put the pieces together and their frustration as they search in vain for someone to finally go on the record.

[It’s] a sturdy, sensitive and fairly effective look at how this story managed to finally emerge from the shadows, without ever coming across as voyeuristic or exploitative.

At the same time, there are some missteps that keep She Said from being the dramatic powerhouse that it’s clearly striving to be. Although it was presumably not the intent of Schrader or Lenkiewicz, there are times when the film feels like the product of Hollywood wishing to put the story of sexual harassment and abuse behind it. It puts it all on Weinstein without quite reckoning with the fact that while Weinstein may have been one of its grossest offenders, he was hardly the only perpetrator to take advantage of his influence.

The film also makes a mistake by including several glimpses into the personal lives of Kantor and Twohey, showing them interacting with their families and Twohey’s struggles with postpartum depression. They aren’t necessarily bad, but there is the nagging sense that the film includes them so that overtly humanizing them in such ways will make their relentless pursuit of the truth more palatable to some viewers.

(If you’re looking for a really good cinematic take on the Weinstein scandal, consider The Assistant, Kitty Green’s powerful fictionalized rendition of the story as seen through the eyes of a lowly assistant becoming increasingly aware of the monstrous behavior of her powerful boss.)

Alas, the film had the misfortune to be released just as COVID was shutting theaters down and it mostly fell through the cracks. She Said is not quite as hard-hitting or memorable. Still, it does do a good job of both recounting the story that goes beyond the salacious headlines into the even more infuriating particulars, and as a reminder of the necessity of journalism as a way of bringing these and other stories to light.

She Said opens in theaters on November 18th.

She Said Trailer:

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CategoriesMovies
Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a Chicago-based filmcritic whose work can be seen at RogerEbert.com, EFilmcritic.com and, well, here. He is also on the board for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Yes, he once gave four stars to “Valerian” and he would do it again.

  1. Ollie says:

    It’s Jodi Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, who meets with Zelda Perkins, played by Samantha Morton, not Megan Twohey, who is played by Carey Mulligan.

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