Film Review: “She Said” — Listening to Women
By Peg Aloi
She Said’s straightforward narrative avoids self-indulgent fanfare and invites viewers to appreciate journalism as a hunt for the truth that, in this case, inspired a cultural earthquake when the #MeToo movement rose up in its wake.
She Said, directed by Maria Schrader. Screening at Somerville Theatre, AMC Assembly Row, Landmark’s Kendall Cinema, and other cinemas throughout New England.
Based on the book by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, this journalistic odyssey chronicles the creation of a news story published in 2017 that exposed years of sexual assault and impropriety by one of Hollywood’s most powerful men: producer Harvey Weinstein. Adapted for the screen by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience) and directed by German actress and director Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man), the film sometimes feeling like a procedural drama, sometimes a socially conscious biopic. Of course, capturing the real-life events behind a news story that literally altered the social zeitgeist is no small feat. There is much in this film that is commendable.
Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) are ambitious journalists trying to balance their demanding jobs with family life: as the film opens, Kantor is dealing with co-parenting two young children with her very understanding husband, and Twohey is pregnant and about to go on maternity leave. Twohey has just published a piece on Donald Trump’s revealing interview with Access Hollywood, in which he admits sexually assaulting women, and after interviewing him by phone and publishing the piece, she is immediately subjected to harassing and threatening phone calls.
Newsflash: the revelations don’t prevent Trump winning the election. Struggling with postpartum depression, Twohey was also affected by the anxiety-ridden days of the Trump presidency — she felt an impending sense of dread. The film avoids any specific references to the furies of that time, but many of us will recall those days, particularly watching with horror as sexual abusers and accused rapists (like Brett Kavanaugh) dominated the mainstream media discourse. Twohey eventually feels strong enough to return to reporting: she and Kantor are assigned by their editor (played by Patricia Clarkson) to dig into allegations of rape and assault against Weinstein. They have conversations with several big name actresses, including Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd (who appears as herself), but at first no one will go on the record.
Much of Twohey and Kantor’s efforts to report the story involve trying to gently convince women who have been victimized by Weinstein to allow themselves to be quoted, even anonymously. But many of them remain terrified of retribution. Other professionals in the industry, who are not actresses, were also assaulted by Weinstein. One of them, Linda Madden (Jennifer Ehle) lives in the UK. She has kept quiet for years about being raped when she was a young production assistant. Then there’s Samantha Morton, brilliant in one compelling scene with Kantor as Zelda Perkins, a former Miramax employee who was pressured to sign an NDA, alongside a colleague and friend: both were subjected to horrific emotional abuse in the workplace, both were forced to remain silent. Another abused woman lives in Silicon Valley; she signed a nondisclosure agreement and hasn’t told her husband about being assaulted. There is some intriguing back and forth with Weinstein and Times editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher), especially when Baquet refuses to be subjected to Weinstein’s manipulation. It’s a strange choice, here, to have Baquet seem to triumph, given that Weinstein had repeatedly managed to make women back down. As the Times story comes closer to becoming reality, Weinstein realizes he may not have the clout to rise above the media storm that will follow. The filmmakers made an ironic decision to portray Weinstein in phone calls or as a nameless, faceless man in a meeting room. The contrast with the producer’s overwhelming reach, wealth, and power — which he successfully used for years to discredit his accusers and escape culpability — is striking. We know how this part of the story ultimately turned out, too.
She Said wisely avoids focusing on the reporters’ personal struggles, deferring instead to how they grapple with breaking down the walls of silence and the stories of the victims. Kazan and Mulligan both give strong, understated performances, dogged reporters who begin to sense the intricate webs of connections among their sources as they pursue the story. Even when their feelings intervene (Twohey lets loose on a rude guy who tries to hit on her in a bar while she and Kantor are discussing Weinstein), their professionalism remains front and center. The scenes portraying the day-to-day work of these reporters feels authentic. The aura of shame and secrecy that surrounds the producer’s victims is palpable and potent. Ehle, in particular, gives a luminous performance as a woman who has lived with the impact of being Weinstein’s victim for decades. Her decision to go public is cathartic and redemptive. She Said’s straightforward narrative avoids self-indulgent fanfare, and invites viewers to appreciate journalism as a hunt for the truth that, in this case, inspired a cultural earthquake when the #MeToo movement rose up in its wake.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Time, Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found on substack.