Runtime: 135 minutes
Director: Maria Schrader
Writer: Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Based on She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey)
Starring: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton
By Calum Cooper
“She Said” (2022) details the story of the events leading up to the exposure of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that galvanised the start of the #MeToo movement. New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) decides to investigate rumours about Weinstein’s misconduct. By speaking to various actress and ex-workers within the film industry, she realises that there is a network of sexual misconduct across Hollywood, with Weinstein being an especially large branch within it. Thus, Kantor employs the efforts of her co-worker Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), who has a history of covering sexual misconduct stories. Together, the two vow to break the truth of Weinstein’s actions.
Undoubtedly, and understandably, there were concerns about the recency of this film, especially given its proximity to when Kantor and Twohey broke the story. That’s not even to mention the potential exploitation of relatively fresh mass trauma that a film like this can generate in the wrong hands. Thankfully director Maria Schrader and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz understand the gravitas of the stories they are sharing and have considerate empathy throughout. However, the end product is still something of a mixed bag.
Through the film’s journalistic angle, it is able to engage with the vast scope of its chosen subject matter, detailing just how many women were affected by it. The script moves with considerable briskness, even with its 135 minute runtime. It is on a mission to uncover the seriousness of its topics, much like its heroines. Nicholas Brittell’s score captures the passion of the characters, and the darkness of what they are uncovering splendidly, even if the film’s reliance on this score does threaten to sabotage the emotional resonance.
One especially admirable aspect to the way in which Schrader and Lenkiewicz tell this story is in its considerations to both the risk and reward of breaking such a story. The film opens with Megan tackling the sexual assault allegations levelled at Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. As we know, Trump, unfortunately, went on to win the presidency despite the damning evidence against him. This places Megan in an especially compelling place for at least the first portion of the film. Having experienced the lack of consequences for abusers in her previous story, Megan is understandably disheartened. The film is well aware of the risks imposed on those who bravely speak out, and treats those people with measured solidarity, depicted in the ways Megan and Jodi interact with these other women. Plus, the scenes between Megan, Jodi, and their daughters detail what is potentially at stake if they don’t uncover the truth.
“What Schrader and crew have created here is something that’s a bit lacking overall. Yet the considerable empathy and understanding they exude towards those most affected by Weinstein is undeniably noble.”
There is much to respect in how the film approaches its topic, although the execution is somewhat muddled. The editing can be outright clumsy at the worst of times. Oftentimes the film covers scenes of the women affected by Weinstein going about their day or dwelling in negative head spaces, and splices them in between scenes of investigative journalism. The way the film jumps between the numerous plotlines can feel like whiplash at times, a decision that seems to stall character arcs. Megan’s initial grievances all but disappear once she gets into the nitty gritty of the investigation. Yet the oddest choice includes actual audio of an interaction between Weinstein and one of his victims, played over tracking shots of hotel hallways. The choice is understandable, as it causes the viewer to visualise what happened, but it is a jarring, and potentially triggering choice, that undercuts some of the characters’ own reactions to the gravity of what’s being uncovered.
Choices like this somewhat rob the film of the intensity or impact factor that a comparable movie like “Spotlight” (2015) had. “She Said” even has something of a sanitised feel to its presentation, despite the titanic disgust of the topic it is showcasing. It’s preferable to exploitation, but it feels as though the film is only scratching the surface of the misconduct it is uncovering, while simultaneously patting itself on the back for a job well done. It’s a curious choice as Weinstein was not the start or the end of the problem. He was merely a part of it. A big part of it yes, but just one part. The narrative feels somewhat self-congratulatory as it details the process of breaking the story, but does little to address the impact outside of what if based discussions and an admittedly very impressive epilogue of superimposed text. It’s as though the film is trying to be a triumphant declaration of victory despite the fact that the problems Weinstein encapsulated very much continue to exist within Hollywood today.
Yet, what ends up just saving the film, are the performances and the well-meaning compassion behind its craft. Both Kazan and Mulligan are terrific in channelling each woman’s drive, uncertainty, and righteous anger into their performances. Their chemistry together is palpable, and although the script maybe doesn’t do as much as it could have to fully flesh them out, they are just engaging enough. Furthermore, the clear solidarity that the cast and crew have with those who were affected by what the film is covering comes across through the assured direction and written interactions between the characters. Samantha Morton has a small role, but her scene with Kazan is the film’s most powerful moment. Sensitive, measured, and composed, despite being filled with anger and sorrow under the surface, the way it bravely captures the fears of those affected, and the overwhelming weight of what they had to endure, is pretty brilliant. One wishes the rest of the film was as bold.
Approaching a topic such as this, especially so soon after the story broke, was never going to be an easy feat. What Schrader and crew have created here is something that’s a bit lacking overall. Yet the considerable empathy and understanding they exude towards those most affected by Weinstein is undeniably noble. That it comes across within the craft makes “She Said” a reasonably honourable piece of filmmaking. It has its flaws, but the performances are great, the score is emotive, and it handles its subject matter with care. It certainly won’t work for everyone, and the prospect of it being awarded by a system that enabled the very horrors it portrays is somewhat unnerving. But, for the right audience, there’s plenty to admire about “She Said”. Besides, as many critics far better than myself have observed, there’s something inherently satisfying about watching two working mothers collaborate to bring down a powerful tyrant.