This review originally ran October 13, 2022, in conjunction with the film’s world premiere at the New York Film Festival.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s explosive New York Times report on Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long abuse behind the scenes at Miramax and his own company broke Hollywood open, exposing a new generation of workplace tyrants and sex pests, and creating, hopefully, some social shifts for good.
Five years after the rise of the #MeToo hashtag and three years after the publication of Kantor and Twohey’s book, Hollywood seeks to tell the tale of its own reckoning in a film of the same, succinct title: “She Said.”
Director Maria Schrader (“Unorthodox,” “I’m Your Man”) offers a film that certainly represents a “Hollywoodization” of the otherwise tedious and tiresome events that occurred in order for Kantor and Twohey to get their witnesses to go on the record, complete with dramatic phone calls, door slams, screaming arguments. Over the course of many months, the two reporters spoke to dozens of former employees of Weinstein’s in order to understand the degree and perpetuation of abuse that was protected by lawyers and PR companies and peers alike.
Twohey, played in the film by Carey Mulligan, is hard-nosed and dogged, a real “All The President’s Men” type, her low drawl both wry and perpetually frustrated. Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, is a little softer and more open, perhaps the better active listener of the two, whose eyes well with tears more than once as she talks to these women on the phone.
Surrounded by a coterie of great supporting actors — a wonderful Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet is a smart choice; Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett is rock-solid, here sporting big chunky jewelry in each scene — “She Said” is always entertaining, even when it feels didactic or vaguely exploitative. There’s something a little unsavory about this project coming so soon after the story at hand, as though Hollywood still may not have had the chance to learn from it. But there’s nothing too glaringly obscene about “She Said,” despite doubts, which is far more interested in dramatizing journalism than it is abuse.
Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, for instance, take on tricky roles as former employees of Weinstein, both navigating the tricky legal parameters of what they can and cannot say. Morton, an often underutilized but fantastic performer, knocks her main scene out of the park, a tea date with Kantor that changes the course of the investigation for good. At times, the film touches on reality (at least one of the story’s original survivors appears in the film herself) in moments that feel a bit half-hearted, if not well-intended.
Luckily, screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (“Colette,” “Ida”) keeps things rolling along, never wallowing too much in any one victim’s suffering or any hiccup in the editorial process. Her script is clear on emphasizing that Weinstein himself was not the sole perpetrator of these events, but that he was aided and abetted by a system that allowed him to continue to get away with it, with NDAs and settlements and other payouts.
At times, “She Said” feels a bit too much like an adaptation of a book rather than a procedural, the scenes just sort of barreling into each other, lacking a sense of narrative cohesion. When there is that lack of cohesion, however, Lenkiewicz drives it home in an aside that emphasizes either the work or suffering that not just the Weinstein women, but every woman, goes through.
Things get a little overly explanatory, in general, as though the film assumes its audience is not familiar with these allegations or the bombshell nature of this story. But perhaps that is the issue that the film is addressing: that there are still huge swaths of indifference towards sexual harrassment and abuse thorughout the country. Like “Spotlight” before it, “She Said” hopes to shed light on a topic on which still — despite a vague sense of knowing — has not received the outrage it deserves, with more anger still at abusers than systems. This is a showier movie, louder and more direct, committed to making a splash rather than a ripple. Mercifully, Schrader knows not to double down on scenes of abuse, but rather the locations in which these incidents happened: luxury hotel rooms, far from the sight of anyone who could stop it.
It’s not a particularly artful film, with one too many exterior shots of The New York Times’ office and a rote score by Nicholas Brittell used to emphasize that what’s happening is important, but it’s tough not to get increasingly invested in Kantor and Twohey’s work. The two traveled near and far, sacrificing time with their families, in order to get this story out here. That they were both working mothers is a heavily emphasized point: not only are these good, altruistic journalists but they are also mothers, which is perhaps supposed to conjure a further degree of goodness.
Women who may or may not “have it all” struggle and doubt just like anyone else. When it comes time to copy-edit the story, it’s hard not to feel like the two have gone through hell and back to whatever awaits them, and us, on the other side.
“She Said” opens in US theaters Nov. 18 via Universal Pictures.