Directed by: Maria Schrader
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Anna Harrison
In 2017, Harvey Weinstein’s world imploded. Five years later—practically in no time at all—we have a movie about the two “New York Times” reporters who broke the story, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor (and one mention of Ronan Farrow). Where Twohey and Kantor’s reporting was groundbreaking, the movie that it (and their subsequent book) inspired is less so, marred by the pedestrian way in which it’s shot and, mostly, its own self-congratulation: Hooray, they cured Hollywood of its systemic abuse!
After reporting on the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump in 2016, Twohey (played by Carey Mulligan) joins fellow reporter Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they begin to investigate whispers of misconduct from Weinstein, then one of the most, if not the most, important producers in Hollywood. What they find is an insidious web of hush money settlements, non-disclosure agreements, and enablers; from Gwyneth Paltrow to no-name women, it seemed that every woman that came into contact with him had some sort of story, from sexual massages to outright rape. Twohey and Kantor are met with resistance and intimidation, but eventually find their biggest sources in Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), and Ashley Judd as herself.
In the scenes where survivors recount their abuse, “She Said” can be gripping and horrifying in equal measure. Morton and Ehle, in particular, are standouts, and give their characters far more depth than even Twohey and Kantor receive. Oh, sure, Twohey has a couple of scenes addressing her postpartum depression as a new mother. Kantor cries when her young daughter says the word “rape” for the first time. But these are all superficial—who are they outside of this story? That they are working mothers whose husbands are peripheral figures holding down the fort at home is important, but what do we know of their relationship with said husbands? What are their kids like? The only thing they seem to do is answer their phone, get coffee while on their phone, ride taxis while on their phone, and walk through the streets of New York while on their phone. They are hollow, though that is nothing compared to the emptiness at the heart of “She Said.”
The film ends (and how can I possibly spoil something that has already happened) with Kantor, Twohey, and the rest of their team (including Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson, who are largely just walking fact-staters here) clicking “Publish” on their piece, and then it cuts to black. There are some ending cards that pay lip service to what happens next, and though director Maria Schrader and writer Rebecca Linkiewicz acknowledge ongoing “debates” about harassment in the workplace, it is grossly unsatisfactory. To act like the downfall of Weinstein signaled the end of Hollywood abuse is to act like World War I actually was “The War to End All Wars.” (Maybe that is a bit insensitive of me to say, but it’s the easiest comparison I found.) We have just had two high-profile abuse and sexual assault cases wrap up in unsatisfactory ways, and there are high-profile directors with histories of abuse that continue to attract A-list talent to their sets; men who have all but admitted to misconduct still win Grammys, and Brad Pitt, who continued to work with Weinstein even after former partners Paltrow (an important if faceless player in this movie) and Angelina Jolie recounted their experiences with the producer, and was additionally himself recently accused of abusing both Jolie and their children on an airplane, is a producer on this damn movie. Where is the victory in clicking “Publish”? Five years after the fact, what do we have to show for all of this aside from a prison sentence? Infantilizing pussy hats? #MeToo pins? We have done nothing to cut out the rot at the center of all of this. We’ve just pulled a few weeds, that’s all.
“She Said” is easy. It’s simple. Ashley Judd, “as a Christian and a mother,” descends from the heavens to go on the record and save Kantor and Twohey’s piece, and Kantor immediately bursts into tears. Isn’t this inspiring? Don’t you feel like applauding?
“She Said” Trailer