In case there’s any question as to where I stand on this, let me start by saying plainly: Harvey Weinstein is a serial rapist and abuser and he should rot in jail.
Now that that’s out of the way…on to She Said, Maria Schrader’s new film based on a book by New York Times journalists Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor (adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz) about their work investigating and ultimately publishing a takedown of Weinstein based on first-person reports of his abuse and the attempts by Miramax and the industry to cover up his wrongdoing. When it was published in October 2017, the article not only dropped a grenade in Weinstein’s lap (he’s currently in jail, and another trial in Los Angeles is under way), but it called all of Hollywood to attention, creating a reckoning that, while far from over, has changed the industry at its foundations.
Portrayed here by Carey Mulligan (Twohey) and Zoe Kazan (Kantor), the journalists are both consummate professionals and human beings, with lives, challenges and baggage of their own to juggle while they devote months of their lives to getting the story just right. Schrader (I’m Your Man) does a fine job of dramatizing what likely was not a terribly visual process. (At one point, a colleague brings Kantor a print out of a Tweet. A print out. You’re telling me she didn’t just Slack her that link?! But I digress….) And the film is smart to focus on everything leading up to the publication; everything that happened once the article hit the pages is known, it’s how it got to that point that is explored here.
To that end, She Said makes it clear where—and when—we are, at least in broad strokes. The movie opens with a young woman discovering a film shoot in her coastal Irish neighborhood in 1992; soon, she’s an assistant on the project. Shortly after that, she’s in tears running as fast as she can from wherever she’s just been. It’s a gripping way to start the film, and drives home just how quickly things could change with Weinstein, who those who know him describe as being over-the-top at either end of the emotional spectrum, in his enthusiasm and his fury. Fast forward to fall 2016, when the world changed with the election of Trump, and the climate in which Twohey and Kantor are working is perfectly clear; before she joined Kantor on the Weinstein story, Twohey is shown covering the new president and confronting him about that “grab ’em by the pussy” audio tape.
But the film seems to unintentionally be divided into two halves, and neither of them truly delivers on the gravity of the situation or the impact the reporting work would ultimately have on a man, his victims and an industry. While it’s always a pleasure to see Patricia Clarkson on screen, here—as editor Rebecca Corbett—she’s relegated to the sort of expository dialogue that no one in that newsroom would ever actually have to articulate when it’s a room full of professionals at the top of their craft doing the job they were hired to do. Most of the first act is this way, all clunky establishing content that leaves one wondering when we’ll get to the business at hand. And when we do, when Twohey and Kantor are finally able to put fingers to keyboards and start documenting what they’ve learned, the film swerves too far into emotional territory that risks an audience’s faith in their motives. Once a first domino falls and the women get the break they need for the piece, the response is understandably affecting; but Schrader hasn’t done enough to set the stage for this breakthrough to ensure the focus remains on the ripple effects this one dropped pebble in a pond will have. Instead, cynics could read the moment as if Kantor and Twohey are callously celebrating their professional win over anything else.
The film’s most powerful moments come courtesy of a cameo I won’t spoil here, though others may—it’s not listed in IMDb, nor featured in the film’s trailer. Instead, all I’ll allow is that this inclusion is Schrader’s single stroke of genius in an otherwise tricky landscape of portraying victims and perpetrators still very much experiencing this story in real life. Its inclusion is so moving, in fact, it had me wishing for the documentary treatment of this very important moment in media history, a film that can honestly and authentically present the timeline, happenings and impact of Twohey and Kantor’s essential work. Instead, She Said left me leaving the theater wondering if Hollywood has ever been more Hollywood than to capitalize on its own scandal, making some studio a bunch of money from a film about how another studio let an abuser abuse women for decades on end. The whole affair leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, and even a worthy cast and the best intentions can’t fix that.
She Said is now playing in select theaters.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!