The film adaptation of New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s book provides audiences with a repowering story of recent history.
It would be easy to eye-roll She Said, the film adaptation of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s 2019 book with the same name about their investigation into Harvey Weinstein.
When I walked into the film, Unorthodox directed by Maria Schrader and written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, I was anxious it would for the electronic, hard to pin down, current #MeToo movement. Another way mass media manufactures 24/7 contentinto a commodity. It was highly possible that, much like Hollywood’s beleaguered #MeToo organization Time’s Up, it would be weighed down by celebrity-focus – too concentrated on Weinstein as a lone wicked figure, or derailed by unhelpful impersonations of well-known people. Who wants to see an actor become Harvey Weinstein, even for the surely dramatic and cinematic scene when the producer unexpectedly showed up to the Times’ office days before publication as a final intimidation tactic?
Whereas other, weaker films would have gone all-in for cheap drama, Schrader and Lenkiewicz crafted a sensitive and emotionally astute film that avoided such pitfalls. It’s a trustworthy retelling of recent history that stays true to its source material, underscored by Nicholas Britell’s rich and ominous score.
Schrader and cinematographer Natasha Braier use a combination of realism (Kantor Googling photos of famous actors, a browser with 30+ open tabs, the New York Times’s content management system, the Times’s cafeteria) and emotional reality to depict the experiences of “she” in the title. The film begins not in present day New York, but rather in Ireland during 1992. A young Laura Madden gets a job on a Film set after stumbling upon it. Cut to her swiftly running down the street crying; her face conveys pure terror.
The film features recurrent flashbacks of the women’s younger selves, which provides context for the required competence porn of a typical newsroom drama and emphasizes the various emotional rivers that courses beneath it.
In other words, it’s fun to watch Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) make all of their phone calls and unannounced visits. Just like in the 2015 film, Spotlight, which is about the Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests that was uncovered by journalists. She Said delivers on all of the excitement that one feels while watching a journalism movie: it has a great pace (the film is just over two hours but feels shorter), you can almost feel the characters working hard as they pound away at pavement looking for clues, and there is a constant sense of thrill as more and more revelations are made.
Lenkiewicz’s adaptation largely follows the book’s timeline of events, including how Kantor – an experienced reporter of workplace harassment – was made aware of rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein by Rose McGowan after The Times’ investigation into Bill O’Reilly resulted in the Fox News host losing his job. Additionally, the adaptation describes how Kantor connected with Twohey as the latter was experiencing postpartum depression (her first child had been born between investigations into Donald Trump and Weinstein). The reporters worked tirelessly to obtain the pieces of evidence needed for their story – first from McGowan, then Ashley Judd (who played herself in the film), and Gwyneth Paltrow (though she is not depicted in the film, which was a good decision). They compiled an outline of how Weinstein operated his system of payouts and settlements, how he fostered a culture of fear, and how he disguised his pattern of predation as business meetings. The reporters dressed well, took late-night calls, paid attention to every detail big or small; they liaised with editor Rebecca Corbett (played by Patricia Clarkson) and Times head Dean Bacquet (played by Andre Braugher).
In the film, the strongest case for why each woman agreed to talk is made through scenes that feature the non-celebrity sources. These moments offer emotional clarity and insight that neither text nor real-life public interviews could provide. The recollections by former assistant Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Rowena Chiu (AngelaYeoh), both bound by NDAs from the early 90s, as well as an adult Madden (a devastating Jennifer Ehle) are all gut punches. The three performances, in addition to flashbacks of their younger selves, demonstrate the various emotions like trepidation, fear, and shame thatcome with being wounded. The book cannot accurately relay this protected instinctto both tell and hide what happened or to explain it away because its informationis primarily based on evidence.
The follow-up stories, press and book were better when the two reporters worked together because it created a sense of collective testimony and solidarity. However, on a film level, the power duo does not work as well. Kazan gives a notably stiffer performance in comparison to Mulligan, making the scenes wherein the two reporters work together feel less naturalistic than when they are apart. while Kazan’s seemsful like she is reading from a script. Additionally, heavy-handed moments where characters make blatantly obvious proclamations – such as “this is about the system protecting abuse” – also serve to damagethe film’s credibility.
In its better moments, She Said imitates The Assistant, which is Kitty Green’s 2020 eye-opening film about being close to someone toxic in a Weinstein-like production company. When the final showdown with Weinstein does occur, we only see him from behind and in shadow. But, the camera captures the faces of his powerful helpers – like lawyer Lisa Bloom and prosecutor Linda Fairstein – while zooming in on Twohey’s feisty expression: anger, bewilderment, and a tiny bit of pity for Weinstein as he blathers on uninterrupted.
Like the book, She Said lays out all of the turmoil, relationships, dead-ends and uncertainty which support a single story – everything we cannot see at first. The MeToo movement has been messy and full of start-and-stops; it’s satisfying to be able to see its origins more clearly.
She Said will be screening at the New York Film Festival and released in US, UK, and Australia cinemas on November 18th, 17th, and 16th respectively.
Now playing on Cinema HD.
Directed by: Maria Schrader
Based on: She Said by Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan
Running time: 129 minutes
Country: United States