Directed by Maria Schrader | Written by Maria Schrader, based on the New York Times investigation by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey | 128 min | ▲▲▲▲△
It’s hard to underestimate the impact of this story that ran in The New York Times — along with a parallel piece that ran in the New Yorker magazine. It triggered a cultural shift and prompted conversation about sexual harassment around the world. It brought down a number of prominent, successful men, including Harvey Weinstein, who was proved to be the worst kind of Hollywood power player — a predator who raped women, destroyed their lives and careers for decades while protected by a force field of lawyers, toadies, and non-disclosure agreements.
One of the things this film does well is illustrate the damage that legal gag-orders have done in cases of workplace sexual assault — something currently being discussed in this country in light of what’s been happening with Hockey Canada.
She Said offers a solid dissection of the hard work Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) put into this Pulitzer Prize-winning story, asking questions of women who had been victimized and were understandably terrified to come forward.
Kantor and Twohey are two investigative reporters with the Times in 2016. Following a story about women’s accusations against Donald Trump, the paper (led by editors Rebecca Corbett [Patricia Clarkson] and Dean Baquet [Andre Braugher]) takes a deeper look at the ubiquity of sexual harassment, which leads Kantor to meet women who’ve worked in Hollywood as actors and behind-the-scenes assistants and executives, joined by Twohey who’s coming off maternity leave.
What these journalists are told — almost entirely off the record — starts to reveal a pattern of behaviour by Weinstein, who was a big wheel studio head and back in the 1990s an Oscar-winner. Despite the many obstacles thrown in their way, they refuse to let go of this story.
The opening act of She Said is surprisingly stiff. The danger of telling a tale so systematically and diligently researched is it becomes a series of procedural facts, and that’s exactly the pit this picture falls into early on. Despite the talent onscreen, much of their dialogue sounds like it’s being read off the page, almost too reverently. I appreciate these characters are incredibly bright and cerebral, but they’re also human beings who will have a relaxed, spontaneous thought once in awhile — and I was concerned for the first half hour the script and direction wouldn’t allow them an opportunity to breathe.
But things change in the midsection of the film when the case begins to catch fire. What’s missing is someone who will go on the record, and corroboration, ideally a written document. The reporters travel to meet and engage with possible sources. They find two in former Miramax employees Laura Madden (the always excellent Jennifer Ehle) and Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton, who absolutely slays in a single-scene role, and had her own run in with Weinstein years ago).
That’s when the emotion of this piece really sinks in. Full marks to Ashley Judd for playing herself, and I’m willing to bet, even though we don’t see her on screen, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice we hear over the phone. With Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company making this film Paltrow might’ve agreed to participate in some capacity.
Some will say that a story about journalists doing their work is inherently un-cinematic, and to that I’d slap ’em with a Spotlight. If She Said isn’t quite up to Spotlight‘s standards, it does a good job of showing the reality of chasing a difficult story and the kinds of sacrifices these women made while working on it — there was no work-life balance to be had at The Old Grey Lady while they spent months putting this together.
She Said is largely a movie about people speaking on phones while walking, answering them in the middle of the night, and pressing record on voice memos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once it shakes off some of those dry script issues in the early going it’s very much worth the paper it’s printed on.