There is something both pleasingly ironic and more off-puttingly self-exculpatory about She Said, Maria Schrader’s solid if unremarkable recounting of the investigative journalism that led to the takedown of Harvey Weinstein. A big, splashy, Oscar-friendly true story drama, it’s the exact kind of movie that Weinstein himself would have produced before he was finally imprisoned for his decades of sexual abuse, which feels like a nice extra ‘fuck you’ to this particular Hollywood monster. Yet, in being a studio movie about the abuse allowed by movie studios, it also allows Hollywood itself to draw a line under the still-ongoing rampant sexism, bullying, and abuse within the industry. It’s a fine balance that the film can’t quite make work, detracting from what should be an incredibly powerful story.
Though there is plenty of attention given to the many women who came forward to allow the initial bombshell New York Times articles to exist in the first place, the heroes here are Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), the NYT journalists who wrote and published the pieces. We watch their painstaking work talking to woman after woman, actresses and former Weinstein employees, slowly putting the story together, often without being able to name names.
Weinstein’s culture of fear and NDAs makes it hard to get people on the record, and it’s in these gently interrogative interviews that She Said is at its best, especially the sequences with Jennifer Ehle – as an early victim of Weinstein’s – and Samantha Morton as a simmeringly angry ex-employee, one of the few to truly stand up to him. Both Ehle and Morton are great, helping make up for the fact that the lead performances themselves feel very unbalanced.
Mulligan is typically excellent, bringing an easy rock-star swagger to Twohey but Kazan, who gets a notably higher amount of screentime, seems out of her depth. Her performance is stiff and flat, yet overly twitchy in the more emotive moments and she’s generally out-acted by whoever she’s sharing the scene with. Given how acting-reliant the whole endeavour is (Schrader, as many directors have been before, is defeated by how inherently uncinematic writing an article is, right down to a deeply underwhelming final shot), Kazan’s lacklustre performance becomes a problem.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script is solid, though, very good on the ways women talk around abuse, sparing themselves and one another any additional trauma without discounting what was done to them. There are some stirring speeches, albeit with a few too many trailer-friendly Big Lines, and it’s all done with impeccable good taste. We don’t see any of the attacks, just the aftermath of tear-streaked young women and a messy hotel room set to confessional monologues, which ends up a powerfully empathetic choice.
Schrader also allows herself to have just a little fun as well – Twohey and Kantor’s husbands are, amusingly, styled almost identically, harmless background men to be forgotten in the way that so many women are in typical Hollywood stories. Though a lot of the visuals are pedestrian, She Said’s big-screen credentials are enforced by yet another great score from Nicholas Britell; at one early point, when Kantor and Twohey realise just how big this story could be, Britell brings in percussion that sounds like war drums, a thrillingly propulsive moment.
For all its obvious ‘importance’, She Said can’t quite escape its own Hollywood shadow – especially when Kitty Green’s The Assistant covered similar ground two years ago to much more memorable effect – but it’s still a mostly exciting and occasionally genuinely moving procedural about some of the most impactful journalism of the last decade.