I came into the cinema without any knowledge on what She Said would be about. All I knew before coming in was that it was a movie about investigative journalism with Carey Mulligan as one of the leads, who is also gaining a lot of attention for her performance. What threw me for a loop was that the film was based on real events, and ‘She Said’ is the story of Jodi Kantor (played by Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), the two journalists of The New York Times who investigated and published the article on Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconducted that sparked the #MeToo movement back in 2017.
The film opens strong with Mulligan as Twohey and how she goes head-to-head with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump prior to the 2016 election. She breaks the story on Trump’s misconduct with women and how, despite the reports, Trump still manages to win the election and Twohey’s world starts to get tougher as she and her source receives death threats and the like.
Five months later and we then follow Kazan playing Jodi Kantor who is following up on a story that she picked up about sexual abuse and workplace harassment in Hollywood. As she begins following the threads of the story, it begins to resemble the Harvey Weinstein incident and she calls on Twohey to help her put the story together.
What is absolutely incredible about director Maria Schrader’s coverage of this story is how devoid of drama it is. Except for one scene that feels scripted and manipulative, a scene between Twohey and Kantor in the middle of the film where they ask each other if they wished they didn’t go through with this story, the rest of ‘She Said’ is just dealing with the facts of the case and the process by which the two journalists and their editorial board at The New York Times went about putting the story together.
If you remember strongly the Harvey Weinstein case, celebrities and actresses like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd were names that were being tossed around this investigation. The film doesn’t shy away from this, representing the real people of this story from Trump, Paltrow, and McGowan to phone conversations with actors who sound very much like the people they are portraying and Ashley Judd, who appears on screen as herself. Part of the stripping down of the film’s dramatic flair, director Maria Schrader keeps most of the real-world stars as voices on a recording or on a telephone and minimizes their close-ups when they do show up (as they did with Ashley Judd). With very little tricky camera work, ‘She Said’ is focused entirely on the stories of these women, especially the women working behind the scenes, whose lives were destroyed by their interactions and engagements with Weinstein.
Except for one story, almost all the recounting of the acts of abuse and sexual misconduct were told by the actor portraying these women with no flashbacks or cutaways. It’s almost as if these are testimonials and we have to listen to them like a jury. Of the many performances of these testimonials, it is the ones by Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden, and a spectacularly riveting monologue by Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins that really shows the power of truth spoken aloud without the need of additional flourishes.
Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (based on the book by Kantor and Twohey) go through the details of the two journalists’ challenges on being able to gather the evidence needed to publish their story. Through every step of their investigation, they uncover horrendous systems in place that protect men in power and silence women. Devoid of over-dramatizing scenes and story points, ‘She Said’ can seem clinical, antiseptic but the cold-hard facts of what is uncovered creates the drama on its own. I was sitting in the cinema wringing my hands and getting angrier with every new testimonial.
Who knew that facts alone could be so emotionally charged?
Very much like ‘Spotlight,’ this movie revels in the process of investigative journalism. It’s the process, not the emotions nor even the case itself, that ignites the energy of the film and amplifies its theme. What Schrader and Lenkiewicz does, to push the humanity just a bit without going too over-the-top, is to frame both Twohey and Kantor not just as courageous and determined journalists, but also as empathetic women and dedicated mothers as well. It’s these little details – from juggling parenthood and career and the way with which these women empathize with their subjects – that really underscore the issues of this film.
We know this story and we’ve read it in the news. We’ve seen how it ends but seeing the process of it, the details of the investigation, clearly defines our world for the misogynistic and patriarchal world that it was (and still is).
I hope more and more people get to see this film.
She Said is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here.