It’s quite uncanny watching this journalism biopic as the man at the center of the story is still very much in the news – Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial is currently taking place in LA and will go on for weeks. She Said is one of the buzziest and likely the most-attended studio films at Twin Cities Film Fest, released almost exactly five years to the day after New York Times’ journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Cantor broke the story that launches the #MeToo movement.
I still remember the hashtag popping up in every single one of my social media timelines and watching this film definitely harkens back to the emotional response to the bombshell piece of news. It’s incredibly harrowing to imagine how decades of sexual abuse could’ve gone on with no repercussions for the perpetrators. I deliberately put it as plural as it wasn’t just Weinstein himself who committed the horrific acts, but there are countless Hollywood bigwigs who enabled him and somehow shielded this story from ever coming to light.
Now, not every news story is worthy of cinematic treatment, but in the case of She Said, I’m actually interested in the process of the investigation before it became such a groundbreaking exposé. As I haven’t actually read the NYT article itself nor read the book it’s based on, there are plenty of things I wasn’t aware of, which actually improves the viewing experience as it dials up the mystery. For example, I wasn’t aware that Twohey was actually working on a sexual harassment story involving Donald Trump who was running for president. But then he ended up winning the election which made it harder for women to come forward with their stories of abuse.
Around the same time, Twohey’s colleague Kantor got a lead story involving Weinstein, which also proved challenging when the actress she spoke with (actress Rose McGowan) didn’t want to go on the record. I think anyone familiar with this story would understand the risk of being the first, or even one of the few, coming forward, as the film talks about ‘strength in numbers.’ That is, more women would likely be willing to go on the record if more would do so at the same time.
The film did an admirable job highlighting the virtually insurmountable odds of breaking such a story. In many ways, it’s a David vs Goliath tale given how powerful Weinstein was as a media mogul and über producer who could make and break someone’s career, especially those just trying to break into the film industry. He’s an indiscriminate predator, preying not just on actresses but also on any woman who happens to work in his circle.
It’s interesting that the decidedly American story is brought to life by two European filmmakers, German director Maria Schader and British screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, starring English actress Carey Mulligan as Twohey and American Zoe Kazan as Cantor. Kazan has a bit more screen time overall but I’d say they’re co-leads of the film. Both are excellent in their respective roles, not just as journalists but also as young mothers who have to juggle grueling work and family life. They deliver solid committed performances without being overly melodramatic. Props to the filmmakers for highlighting the sacrifices these women made and the emotional toll they endure while facing so many hurdles and uncertainties during the investigations.
The supporting cast is top-notch all around, featuring Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson as their NYT bosses, as well as Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton as witnesses. Morton is particularly notable during her brief but emotionally-charged confession at a cafe. Ashley Judd is one of the memorable performers playing herself in a pivotal moment.
Schrader continues to prove her versatility as a filmmaker considering she just did the sci-fi comedy I’m Your Man. Working off of Lenkiewicz’s astute script, Schrader creates a pretty riveting journalism drama that’s handled with care and sensitivity. Given the potentially-triggering subject matter, Schrader only shows the locations where the abuse takes place–hotel rooms, hallways, offices–while voice recordings are being played. I don’t think we ever need to see the attacks shown visually, even just hearing the sound is disturbing enough.
The fact that Weinstein’s face is never shown is a wise directorial decision to avoid triggering viewers with similar sexual-misconduct experiences. Plus, the brave women at the center of the story should be given maximum screen time instead of the perpetrator. Nicholas Britell‘s score adds a sense of urgency that sort of emulates the ticking clock in the background. At 135 minutes, the film is quite well-paced as it manages to keep my interest piqued from start to finish.
It’s debatable just how much Hollywood has changed in five years since the #MeToo movement broke. There have been changes in policies, a few other abusers have been called out, hotlines set up by unions & organizations for survivors of abuse, etc., but overall it’s still very much a male-dominant industry and it’s still got a long way towards a real culture shift. One thing is for sure though, the film shows that journalists like Twohey and Kantor are brave heroes whose sacrifice cannot be underestimated.
Have you seen SHE SAID? What did you think?