‘She Said’ Review: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan Anchor Solid Dramatization of the New York Times’ Weinstein Investigation
The headline was clear, succinct and scathing: “Harvey Weinstein paid sexual harassment prosecutors for decades.” The story, written by New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor and published Oct. 5, 2017, described how the powerful producer and co-founder of Miramax brushed aside allegations of sexual assault and harassment for decades. They spoke to his former assistants, prominent actresses and other people from the film industry to find out the constellation of lawyers, employees and advisers who protected the Hollywood mogul. Twohey and Kantor’s reporting didn’t just help Weinstein survivors seeking redress; it also helped ignite a penetrating motion.
Maria Schrader’s She said dramatizes Twohey and Kantor’s investigative process, sensitively portraying the efforts the reporters made to uncover in memory one of the most harrowing instances of abuse, power, and coercion at work. (I was an employee at the Time during this period, but had no relationship with either person or anyone being portrayed.) The film — based on their book of the same title — is sensible, dutiful and, thanks to key performances, more engaging than the average newsroom procedure.
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Following in the tradition of its ancestors in the genre (most recently Oscar winner Tom McCarthy) spotlight), She said wraps the rush of toiling for groundbreaking stories in the unglamorous affairs of everyday life. It also pokes at a darker proposition, but can’t fully unravel it: how interwoven and complicit are many of us in the systems that keep violent men in power. (Brad Pitt, who had recently leveled accusations against him, is an executive producer.) Justice requires a radical reorientation and starting over.
Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) take center stage She said, but their story is anchored by vignettes that give a taste of the lives of the women who become their sources. The film opens in Ireland, 1992, with a scene of Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), one of the first women to release the record about Weinstein, during a shoot for a Miramax movie. She joins the production company shortly after, and in the next scene we see her running through the streets – tears in her eyes, a troubled look on her face. The moment connects the past with the present and forms one of the film’s most poignant lines: a generation of women forced to give up their dreams and live alone with their nightmares.
When She said Settles into the recent present – five months after Election Day 2016 – we have a great understanding of the reporters behind the story. Jodi, whose previous work has focused on labor and Amazon, is trying to materialize a story from rumors she’s heard about Weinstein. Tracking down and trying to talk to some of the high-profile women — like Rose McGowan, for example — is a time-consuming task, drawing her away from time with her husband and daughters. Megan, who released some of the first reports of the sexual assault allegations against Trump, has just returned to work after the birth of her first child. Postpartum depression plagues her, and she finds relief from the overwhelming demands of motherhood by throwing herself into a new project.
The decision for the two women to work together is an easy one: their editor, Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), pairs them up and puts them to work. The investigation takes Megan and Jodi, whose different personalities become more apparent as the film progresses, through New York and the world. Megan, a rock-solid force unafraid of confrontation, tries to find lesser-known women who might want to go on the record. She travels to Queens to find one of Weinstein’s former assistants and negotiates with Lance Maerov (Sean Cullen), a former board member of the Weinstein Company, to have him confirm the exact number of settlements the producer has paid. Mulligan delivers a strong twist, portraying Megan’s struggles to balance competing obligations and attempts to stave off depression. The reporter’s drive is the foundation of Mulligan’s performance, which imbues the actress with dry humor and an admirable sense of ruthlessness.
Jodi uses milder tactics – at one point Megan describes her as “less intimidating.” She travels to London, California and Wales in an effort to get former assistants to tell her their stories. Kazan channels the power of her character through concerned looks – furrowed brows, tearful eyes – and understanding pleas. Jodi is persistent in her pursuit of getting at least one woman on the record.
Incomparable, however, is Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, a former Weinstein employee bound by the terms of a stifling NDA. In her short scene, as Zelda sits with Jodi in a London café, she gives a performance that is both transfixing in its veracity and rending in its impact. Zelda tells the reporter how another assistant’s attack triggered her desire to fight the Weinstein company. She – and that assistant, Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) – tried to face the company, demanding that Harvey’s behavior be taken seriously, that the board act, rather than ignore it. Their efforts didn’t pay off much in the end, but that didn’t stop Zelda from getting the story out. Finally, she hands over Jodi papers supporting Jodi and Megan’s investigation.
In the middle of She said, which moves at a leisurely pace that sometimes complicates the film’s more than two hours running time, are the testimonies of these women. Rather than depicting an attack, Schrader (I’m your man), who collaborates with DP Natasha Braier, creates audiovisual montages: a recording of Harvey (pictured briefly from behind, but otherwise invisible) trying to force a woman into his room, playing while the camera observes an ornately decorated hotel hallway; as Laura tells the story of her rape, the film of her sitting on the beach with Jodi moves into a nondescript hotel room where women’s lingerie is strewn on the floor and the shower runs in the bathroom.
These moments provide a kind of revival for the women whose stories went unheard for decades. But they also make the testimonies we still don’t hear even more poignant in their absence. Five years after the peak of #MeToo, initiated by activist Tarana Burke, dozens of stories like those of Twohey and Kantor have been published that have changed the way we talk about sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. Despite the fact that the movement was started by a black woman survivor, mainstream portraiture and sympathies revolve around the experiences of white women. There is no expectation that She said address that in relation to reality, but as the film inevitably moves into the canon of historical and biographical dramatizations, there is a hope that it will revitalize the discourse and invite conversations about why – years later – certain testimonies seem to carry more weight. have than others.