'She Said' follows the journalists who set the #MeToo movement in motion
At first glance, the taut and engrossing drama She Said seems to follow in the tradition of step-by-step newspaper procedurals like All the President's Men and Spotlight. Like those earlier titles, it makes journalists look awfully good — not just by casting them with famous actors, but also by showing how difficult, thankless and tedious their work can be as they struggle to break that huge, history-making story.
But because the story here is about Harvey Weinstein, She Said can't help but play differently. It's both powerful and a little unnerving to see a movie about a film producer's downfall emerge from the very industry he once dominated. The movie's most eerily poignant touch is the casting of Ashley Judd as herself, agonizing over whether she should go public with her story about having fended off Weinstein's hotel-room advances years ago. The director, Maria Schrader, and the screenwriter, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, effectively re-create the fear and anxiety that women felt before the reckoning of #MeToo, when powerful male abusers faced little to no accountability.
As the movie opens in 2016, the New York Times investigative reporter Megan Twohey, played by Carey Mulligan, has just written about new sexual-assault allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in the wake of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. She teams up with another reporter, Jodi Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, who's heard allegations about Weinstein that concern sexual harassment, assault and rape. In one scene, Kantor catches Twohey up to speed on what she's learned, and asks, "If that can happen to Hollywood actresses, who else is it happening to?"
That's a good question, especially since actors like Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow, who've worked with Weinstein in the past, are unwilling to speak on the record. Kantor and Twohey decide to focus on the many women who used to work at Weinstein's company Miramax. They split up the legwork, doggedly tackling the story from every angle. And gradually, with the invaluable guidance of their editor, Rebecca Corbett — a terrific Patricia Clarkson— they uncover a vast network of enablers who helped Weinstein not only commit his crimes but also keep them hidden, via settlements and non-disclosure agreements.
The reporters complement each other nicely, and so do the actors playing them. Mulligan plays Twohey as the steelier of the two; there's an amusing moment when she decides to take the lead on an interview, since she's taller and presumably more intimidating. Kazan emphasizes Kantor's empathy, her skill at building trust and coaxing information out of even the most reluctant sources. One of the pleasures of She Said is that it subverts the usual Hollywood formula of the male workaholic and his supportive, long-suffering wife: Here, it's Kantor and Twohey working tirelessly at all hours while their husbands hold down the fort and take care of the kids.
There's something meaningful about that dynamic, especially since so many of Weinstein's former assistants were young women on the cusp of successful film careers that were suddenly cut short. Samantha Morton gives a terrific performance as Zelda Perkins, who rivetingly details an incident in the '90s when she spoke out against Weinstein for harassing a colleague. And Jennifer Ehle is quietly heartbreaking as another ex-employee, Laura Madden, who musters the courage to break her two-decade silence.
Weinstein himself remains a mostly peripheral figure, shown only from behind in a few scenes in which he tries to pressure the Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, played by an unflappable Andre Braugher. The movie remains tightly focused and disciplined as Kantor and Twohey race to publish their story, especially after learning that another Weinstein investigation, by Ronan Farrow, is about to break in The New Yorker. But the Times reporters are also determined to get the story right and make sure that they've built an airtight case.
As a lover of movies about journalism, I ate up every detail of the drama inside the Times building, even while knowing that I was watching a more polished and streamlined version of events. There's something a little tidy and anticlimactic about how She Said ultimately plays out, especially since it leaves the aftermath of Kantor and Twohey's reporting offscreen. At the same time, it's fitting that the movie should end before we can see the full impact of the #MeToo movement that journalists helped ignite across every industry and all over the world. That's a much bigger story — and one that, five years later, is still being written.
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