- She Said
- Directed by Maria Schrader
- Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
- Starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan
- Classification 14A; 128 minutes
- Opens in theatres Nov. 18
One of the toughest tasks in journalism – and potentially the most tedious – is asking people questions they don’t want to answer. Their answers might serve the public interest but unwilling sources suspect, often correctly, that it won’t serve their personal interest.
Based on the investigation and subsequent book by New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, She Said is a movie about getting women to go on the record accusing movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. The topic is sensational, the figures are glamorous but in the end this determined film is a journalistic procedural, as dogged as Twohey and Kantor themselves.
Even at the mighty New York Times, journalism is less romantic than it was in the days of All the President’s Men; She Said is not a thrilling movie but rather a satisfying one. No presses roll but when an editor finally clicks the blue publish button on a computer screen there is a strong sense of justice being done. Along the way, the narrative does drag at times, but mainly the film slowly and steadily impresses as two excellent reporters – and two excellent actresses, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan – go about their work.
After Twohey’s stories exposing assault allegations against presidential candidate Donald Trump fail to make a dint in the 2016 American election, the Times begins looking at the larger issue of workplace harassment. Kantor hears rumours from Hollywood and the pair soon hone in on Weinstein.
There begins their long quest to get actresses and former production assistants to talk about their experiences with the movie mogul and, better yet, to give on-the-record accounts with their names attached. Some have signed non-disclosure agreements and could be sued if they speak; some don’t want to relive traumatic episodes; most are terrified of what more damage Weinstein, his Miramax company or even public opinion could do to them.
Like Spotlight, the 2015 film about the Boston Globe’s investigation of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, She Said wisely never shows the assaults under discussion. Director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz rely instead on the reporters’ interviews with the women and, less convincingly, the occasional flashback to a preamble or aftermath. (Weinstein himself never appears with the women and is only shown briefly from behind when he visits the Times’ newsroom toward the end of the film.)
The opening sequence juxtaposing a young Laura Madden cheerfully joining a movie crew in Ireland one minute and then fleeing down a street clutching stray clothing the next is highly effective, but the device does become blunted as the movie progresses. Sadly, happier scenes of the victims seem extraneous. Schrader occasionally resorts to documentary devices, playing the infamous wiretapped conversation between a pestering Weinstein and a reluctant Ambra Gutierrez over footage of an empty hotel corridor, while, rather confusingly, a key e-mail is also reproduced as voice over.
Schrader and Lenkiewicz have to be highly inventive to differentiate and to cast the women. There are about eight involved in the film – some are heroines of the piece; others play cameos in which they do no more than shut doors in the reporters’ faces – but it can be hard to keep all the cases straight. Rose McGowan, Weinstein’s most public accuser, and Gwyneth Paltrow, his most famous, are only voices over the phone while Ashley Judd bravely (and successfully) plays herself. When she finally tells Kantor that it is her duty as a woman and a Christian to go on the record, the Jewish reporter weeps.
Kazan’s Kantor is wonderfully warm. You can imagine confessing everything to her and you easily forgive her the occasional manipulation: She convinces a Miramax accountant to speak to her by uncovering that his parents, like her grandmother, were Holocaust survivors. Mulligan plays Twohey much cooler, more professionally than emotionally invested in the outcome: Her game of cat-and-mouse with a Weinstein lawyer is a delight to behold. She seems less comfortable with a few scenes where the reporter is suffering from postpartum depression. Meanwhile, Patricia Clarkson’s sharp Rebecca Corbett, the reporters’ immediate editor, and Andre Braugher’s no-nonsense Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, hover over their shoulders, continually demanding something they can’t produce: documentary evidence and named sources.
At the start, Twohey advises Kantor on how she got the women who accused Trump to talk, by telling them she could not change what happened but together they might be able to protect others in the future. Sympathetically but unrelentingly the pair work away to get the women accusing Weinstein to change their minds and put their names to their stories. In the end, of course, some did, and the rest is #MeToo.