Film Review: She Said
Director: Maria Schrader
Annapurna Pictures and Plan B Entertainment
In Theaters: 11.18
As an aspiring teen filmmaker and in the ’90s, I watched the Oscars obsessively. It was my Super Bowl, and Harvey Weinstein was considered an MVP in the sport. This year, Weinstein’s presence rears itself as the subject of one of the most talked about Oscar films. The powerful docudrama She Said chronicles the mogul’s shocking fall from prominence and the subsequent, industry-wide recocking.
She Said stars Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, respectively, two reporters for the New York Times. Twohey is burned badly by the experience covering the Donald Trump rape allegation prior to the 2016 election, having received death threats while watching Trump sail past sex scandals to be elected to the highest political office in the country. Kantor is a younger, less-experienced reporter who is investigating stories of systemic enabling of sexual abusers in Hollwyood, and the reporting quickly becomes focused on Weinstein, the former head of Miramax Films and co-founder of The Weinstein Company.
The investigations reveal allegations of misconduct, abuse and rape dating back to the 1970s. It doesn’t take long for Kantor to see that there’s more than a story here; there’s potential to bring rampant injustice to light and perhaps even effect real change. It’s not going to be easy, and she enlists the aid of Twohey in order to uncover the secrets, seek out the victims and ultimately slay the giant.
She Said is edge-of-your-seat filmmaking, crafted with precision and urgency. Schrader (Unorthodox) wisely chooses to avoid showy camera work or melodramatic music cues, avoiding as much Hollywood flourish as possible, which would have made the film feel phony and labored given the subject matter. While She Said does play out as a procedural investigative story, even employing documentary techniques at times, it’s an overwhelming and powerfully dramatic experience despite the familiar technique.
The tension is palpable throughout, and even for someone who has exhaustively read about the details of this case, it’s still emotionally overwhelming to see it play out. While it certainly appealed to me as a film fanatic and Hollywood history buff, She Said isn’t a film aimed solely at people with an interest in the industry. Shrader never lets Hollywood off the hook, yet keeps in mind the larger picture that this is probably that goes far beyond the movie business.
Kazan is a terrific actress who effortlessly carries the film with her understated performance, and Jodie Kantor serves as the point-of-view character whose active listening skills provide our window into the story. Mulligan, one of the finest actresses of our time, brings a world-weary gravity to her role, and the two make for a perfect pairing á la Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All The President’s Men. While She Said features a sterling ensemble of actors playing real people, including Ashley Judd playing herself. Schrader uses lookalike actors for certain real-life players like Weinstein or Gweneth Paltrow so as not to distract, unless they are seen only fleetingly or from behind. While some might balk at the idea of making a movie chronicling this sort of villainy without giving the villain itself serious screentime, She Said isn’t the villain’s story: It’s the story of the women whose lives and careers Weinstein ruined and of the women who dared to bring him to justice.
She Said falls at least as much under the category of “important film” as it does “great film,” and it’s hard to find much fault in the presentation. As an Oscar historian, I’m fascinated by the irony of the Weinstein case being turned into Oscar bait, yet it ultimately doesn’t matter whether it wins any major awards. What matters is that the film is seen and the message is heard. At a time when the #metoo movement is experiencing heartbreaking setbacks, She Said will hopefully serve as a rallying cry—while the work is not over, the voices of the victims will not be silenced again. –Patrick Gibbs