Updating the template of the investigative journalism movie
The reason She Said works so well is right in the title. This journalism drama about the New York Times’ breaking the story of the Harvey Weinstein scandal is wholly about women telling their stories, or being too afraid to do so. No gratuitous reenactments of assault, no horrifying climactic events. It’s just one account after another from people whose lives were irrevocably damaged by a serial sexual predator with an insane amount of power and a network of enablers, in the capable hands of two veteran female journalists.
The cast is terrific across the board, with a few standouts. Zoe Kazan, as Jodi Kantor, and Carey Mulligan, as Meghan Twohey, are the two journalists at the center. Mulligan is the heavyweight, and you can feel the rage she brought to 2020’s Promising Young Woman simmering under the surface, especially in one scene here involving a flirty bar bro who can’t take a hint. She brings pathos to her character’s postpartum depression, which coincided with Twohey’s working on this story.
SHE SAID ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Maria Schrader
Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Andre Braugher, Patricia Clarkson, Ashley Judd, Samantha Morton
Running time: 129 min
It’s an interesting gender flip to have two female leads working on a story that steals them from their families for large swaths of time. Both are mothers to young children, with likable husbands willing to take on primary parenting with a minimum of grumbling, if not quite none. Men do this all the time in movies, of course, and it’s just sort of accepted that we’ll briefly glimpse their wives handling all the boring domestic stuff.
Also, I could feel director Maria Schrader (Unorthodox) pointing to the fact that both of these women are working within a vast amount of privilege, with a supportive employer and loving spouses and enough money and no fear of abuse while doing their jobs. Take away these conditions and you have ripe opportunity for exploitation, something Weinstein and his ilk know all too well.
Samantha Morton (who isn’t in enough things) arrives for one bravura scene as a former assistant to Weinstein who fled the industry. Jennifer Ehle is also fantastic as another, who initially balks at going on the record. And then there is Ashley Judd, the first actress to agree to go on the record for the Times story, playing herself as she talks about her assault and subsequent cold shoulder from the film industry. The always-great Patricia Clarkson plays the duo’s Miranda Priestly-haired Rebecca Corbett, while Andre Braugher plays executive editor Dean Baquet, who has no qualms about hanging up on Weinstein.
Like most writers, I’m a sucker for a journalism thriller. But can we maybe stop holding up All the President’s Men (based on the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate expose story and book) as the unsurpassable masterpiece of the genre? Yes, it’s a classic of the ‘70s, and yes, in some ways it’s more exciting, because journalism back then involved a lot more footwork and a lot less Zoom meetings. Also, everyone in that movie is performing a very elevated, satisfying Hollywood version of Journalism. The new standard ought to be Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s 2015 dramatization of the Boston Globe’s Catholic child abuse coverage.
If there’s a knock against She Said, it’s the repetitiveness of reality, the doggedness of finding sources, getting those sources to talk, meetings with editors, another round of reporting. Hitting the “publish” button online is never going to deliver big dramatic heft. But compared to the soul-sucking events described here, the Watergate scandal feels downright quaint. Also, it bears mentioning that Bob Woodward was brought in to interview Kantor and Twohey about their story and completely botched it in the most condescending and predictable way, with attendees saying he demonstrated a total lack of awareness about the ubiquity, or even the definition of, rape culture. So forgive me if I look back on President’s Men with a bit of a jaundiced eye.
I’m not completely surprised She Said isn’t killing it at the box office, because its subject matter IS a bummer. But if you think you know the entirety of this story, you’re probably wrong. Weinstein, apparently, took a potshot at the movie’s disappointing performance, which is exactly the kind of petty B.S. you’d expect from that guy. But he’s now a convicted rapist currently on trial in California for rape and sexual assault of four more women, with a long line of other alleged assaults as yet legally untouched. And one thing I particularly admired about Schrader’s choice was to leave even the visual image of him almost entirely out of the film. You can glimpse a schlumpy stand-in in a meeting, but by and large, the women are the focus. As it should be.