She Said (LFF Review) – Get Ready To Feel Angry All Over Again

DIRECTOR: Maria Schrader

CAST: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Samantha Morton, Tom Pelphrey, Adam Shapiro, Jennifer Ehle, Peter Friedman, Mike Houston

RUNNING TIME: 135 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15 TBC

BASICALLY…: Journalists Megan Twohey (Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Kazan) investigate the sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

This review of She Said was conducted as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood made a movie about the criminal actions of one of its biggest industry players, Harvey Weinstein. However, rather than hone in on the disgraced producer’s actions – for which he is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence, and probably longer if upcoming trials go the way we all hope/want them to go – She Said allows his many, many victims to have their voices be heard instead of his, in a captivating journalism drama that will leave you incensed all over again, just as you were when the story first dropped in 2017.

The film, from director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, dramatizes the research that went into that explosive New York Times piece by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, played in the film by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan respectively. Before the stuff about Weinstein comes along, though, the movie briefly covers Twohey’s similar dive into sexual assault allegations against then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, which of course would prove ineffective to his chances but still shows the system in place to protect such powerful people (and threaten accusers by sending excrement through their mailboxes). Some months later, with Twohey away on maternity leave, Kantor begins following up on several claims made by Hollywood actresses like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd (the latter playing herself, in what must have been a cathartic acting experience) that they were in some way harassed or even assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. Both Kantor and Twohey soon dig deeper to find the facts and the evidence, which involves tracking down and interviewing several former associates of the producer, including assistants, accountants, and runners, all of whom recount their devastating experiences to the journalists – and the audience – about the very real trauma that they all went through.

It’s going to be impossible to talk about She Said from this point onward without mentioning Spotlight, because this film really does emulate a lot of the same tone, style of writing, and even filmmaking choices that the Oscar-winning investigative drama also went with, as did All the President’s Men well before either of them. However, what all these movies have in common is their earth-shattering ability to present the straight facts as pure, unadulterated drama with little to no sensationalism, because the findings in and of themselves need no added drama to be effective in a theatrical format. She Said is no exception, and it handles things in a way where you’re certainly angry that such events were allowed to unfold due to the toxic atmosphere of bullying and harassment that Weinstein and other power players were able to enforce, but also extremely sympathetic to the people who risked everything to come forward and tell these people the truth. There are long scenes where either Kazan’s Kantor or Mulligan’s Twohey, or sometimes both at once, are listening to people just describing what happened when in the vicinity of people like Harvey Weinstein, with very few flashbacks and absolutely zero re-enactments of the traumatic incidents themselves, and you get far more out of just hearing these devastating accounts being spoken in a very matter-of-fact way than you would by actually seeing them, because not only are the performances across the board exceptional, but the writing and the direction both do a solid job of putting the viewer into that uncomfortable mindset as they’re hearing it all be read out loud.

One of the things that I really enjoy about journalism movies like this and Spotlight is how they really go out of their way to look and act as pedestrian as possible, but not necessarily in a negative sense. Rather, the mundane and sometimes dry approach really emphasises the real-life drama that is being presented as straightforward exposition, because there is honestly no other way to dramatize important real-life stories like this or the Catholic priest scandal without being almost entirely expository. Schrader’s direction and Lenkiewicz’s script, not to mention the stellar on-screen work of Mulligan and Kazan, are all powerful in their relative silence, which feels appropriate for a story that was for a time shrouded in near-open secrecy, and in how they pull you more and more into the implications that are far bigger than simply a movie executive abusing their power and authority. Granted, the movie only focuses on the stuff surrounding Harvey Weinstein, and doesn’t really get into the #MeToo movement that spawned from this original story and also brought down the careers of many other abusers in Hollywood and elsewhere around the world, but you get enough of a sense that the system that initially protected all of them is overwhelming in its underlying presence, and the film avoids patting itself on the back too much to say that the buck doesn’t even come close to stopping with Weinstein. The fact that it also does so in such an intentionally underplayed manner that rarely feels the urge to go for some Oscars, either by spicing up some of the performances or adding more violas to Nicholas Brittel’s haunting score, really makes this feel like an authentic study rather than just cynically tapping into recent revelations for a shot at awards glory.

It is a gripping account of some truly horrifying Hollywood anecdotes, one that sympathises heavily with the victims and resolves to tell their story without lionising the reporters who finally brought the entire affair into the public eye. However, it’s difficult to tell if this one will be as celebrated or even rewarded as much as Spotlight, because of the two I’d say that this one has a slightly lighter impact than the full-on tidal wave of shock and awe that the other film created, but this is still a fine piece of filmmaking that perfectly encapsulates the meat of the story without sacrificing any of the heart.

SO, TO SUM UP…

She Said is a gripping dramatization of the research and reporting that went into breaking the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which despite borrowing from the style and structure of other journalism films like Spotlight, really makes you feel a mixture of emotions from anger to sadness about the disturbing truths that reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey uncovered, and the harrowing tales of his victims for whom the film harbours great, and necessary, sympathy for.

She Said will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 25th November 2022.

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