'She Said': A Compelling Journalism Drama
In the five years since Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published their investigative report on Harvey Weinstein's history of sexual abuse and harassment, a lot has changed. Many workplaces have examined and reformed policies related to sexual harassment, several male celebrities have been called out for predatory behavior, and perhaps most importantly, Harvey Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. While Kantor and Twohey's piece didn't start the #MeToo movement, it did amplify it significantly, and opened the door for many women to voice their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. It is that act of women being able to tell their stories and taking back control of the narrative that is at the center of She Said, which details Kantor and Twohey's investigation of the Weinstein case. The film is presented as a straightforward journalism drama, but it becomes much more than that through how it allows the story to be told by the women involved in it, whether they are reporters or survivors.
The film recalls other journalism movies such as All the President's Men and Spotlight, as we see the full process from the beginning of the investigation to the story being published. Certain elements feel highly reminiscent of these films, but She Said does forge its own path in certain moments. It sets itself up quite nicely, beginning with Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) putting together a piece on sexual assault allegations against then Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Through this, we see the early rumblings of what would become the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, and it provides a little background of how and why Twohey and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) began their investigation. Throughout the film, we see the obstacles they face in finding the truth of what Harvey Weinstein did, and the determination that both women have in bringing it to light. Much of the film is devoted to their interviews with various women who worked with and were abused by Weinstein, allowing them to tell their own stories, some of them for the first time. It shows the difficulty that many women have in discussing matters of abuse and assault, but it also shows why it is important to speak up as well.
One of the elements of the film that I appreciated are the scenes that show Twohey and Kantor's home lives. Both women are mothers and we see both of them try to balance work and home all throughout the film. It humanizes both of them nicely, and shows the sacrifices that they make, as well as the added weight on both of their shoulders during this time. The film doesn't spend too much time developing its characters, but we do get little things like this that give them a little more dimensionality. The story at its core is what is truly important, but it is still nice to get these small moments with these characters.
The highlight of the film are the actual interviews that they conduct for the investigation. These scenes are a bit challenging, but they are executed quite well. The actors who play the women being interviewed in these scenes are all incredible, and they capture the complex emotions that come with talking about matters of sexual assault so excellently. The subject matter is heavy and sensitive, but the actors and filmmakers handle it with the appropriate weight and care it deserves. These stories are upsetting, but they deserve to be told as they shine a light on larger systemic issues.
One of the most powerful scenes involves one of these interviews, where Jodi Kantor is interviewing Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton). Perkins was a former assistant to Weinstein, and she meets with Kantor to tell her story. The key to this whole scene is Morton's performance, which is perhaps the best one-scene performance of the whole year. She is so dialed in to her character, and you can't help but be captivated by how she tells the story of her time with Weinstein. What Morton accomplishes in just a matter of minutes is incredible, and is not only one of the film's best scenes, but one of the best scenes of the year.
Another scene where Kantor is interviewing Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) is also quite compelling, and is rather empathetic. Madden's story is heartbreaking, and Ehle plays the scene so honestly, which gives the impression that this isn't a story she has told often, if at all. Ehle's work in the scene is brilliant, and the way the film cuts to showing parts of the hotel room where her encounter with Weinstein during her story is a fascinating choice that puts us in her headspace without actually showing us anything traumatic. Ehle's performance throughout the film as a whole is solid, and her arc over the course of the film is poignant and one of the few great examples of character development within it.
While the interviews and the actors playing the interviewees are undoubtedly some of the best aspects of the film, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan's performances are the glue that hold it all together. Kazan is an actor who I have always enjoyed, and this is easily one of her best performances to date. It's a bit grounded, but Kazan imbues her character with so much empathy and passion that lends itself greatly to the overall performance. Kazan is excellent in the interview scenes as well, and has several great scenes throughout that show the complexity of both Kantor as a person, as well as her feelings on the investigation and how she handles some of the challenges that arise from it. We see how she becomes more confident and willing to get the story out over the course of the film, and Kazan plays these moments so well. Mulligan is also quite good, and while she isn't in as much of the film as Kazan, she has some incredible moments of her own. Near the beginning of the film, Twohey gives birth to a daughter, and we see her dealing with postpartum depression shortly after. These early scenes radiate throughout the rest of the film, humanizing Twohey and showing the difficult work/life balance that she tries to maintain. Mulligan might not have as many moments to shine as Kazan, but she makes the most of them. One of her best moments comes near the end of the film, where we slowly zoom in on her face during an important meeting. She is able to convey so much with just the look on her face, and given the context of the scene, it adds so much to it.
The way that the film presents the investigation is rather straightforward, and at times feels like a bit of a summary, but Maria Schrader's direction gives the film the perspective it needs to stand apart from similar films. I am more familiar with Schrader as the Emmy award winning director of the Netflix limited series Unorthodox. Schrader has a simple, yet highly effective method of storytelling, which she demonstrates here. So many of the film's most powerful moments come from seemingly small choices, which help both the story of the investigation and the stories being told by the interviewees have more weight to them. There is a particular sequence near the end that I don't want to spoil, but it is so deceptively simple in practice, but has a much richer and affecting meaning in the context of the film. Schrader's direction also is responsible for keeping up the momentum of the film, which is strong from beginning to end. Her direction is the backbone of the whole film, and her distinct voice helps elevate it significantly.
She Said is a gripping journalism film that takes a look at what all went into one of the biggest news stories of the past decade. It might take a bit from other films about investigative journalists, but Maria Schrader's assured direction allows it to stand out, and tells a story about women by women. I am always intrigued by journalism movies, as I can't help but be drawn in by the quest for the truth that the reporters in these films go on. The fact that these films are almost always based on the truth only resonates more with me, as I believe it is so important to uncover the truth, especially when it relates to misconduct and other wrongdoings. The truth may not always be pleasant, but it is necessary to be aware of it, as it can expose larger systemic issues at play. With Kantor and Twohey's investigation, we see their professional and personal motivations to get the story of Harvey Weinstein's history of abuse out, and it is compelling to say the lease. Knowing the impact that their piece ultimately had makes the film all the more engaging, and seeing everything that led to the seismic shifts in how we view harassment in the workplace and letting women tell their own stories is rather moving. The film might not do anything too out of the ordinary, but I feel that this is necessary in allowing people to see the story and the investigation for what it is, and to feel the reality of the entire situation. Its straightforwardness is honestly one of its greatest strengths, as it cuts to the chase and lets the narrative unfold efficiently. It shines a spotlight on the women at the core of the story, allowing them to present it for themselves, and giving a little more insight into those who fought for the truth to be uncovered.