When the hammer finally came down on Harvey Weinstein in the Fall of 2017, it felt as if Hollywood as a whole was having to reckon with the collective keeping of the industry’s worst-kept secret. Everyone knew Weinstein was a creep, an abuser, a rapist, and even I knew that as a college student not involved with the industry. It was a decades-long cycle of abuse, preying on both the largest actresses and the most anonymous script supervisors. No one was safe in a Miramax or Weinstein Company production, and reckoning with it during the mainstream growth of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement with the series of exposes surrounding not just Weinstein, but a veritable motley crew of abusers within the system was a tough thing to confront for many, particularly when loved and respected figures began being exposed for their behavior within a system that rewarded silence and intimidation. While the exposure of “bad apples” within the system didn’t start or end in 2017, the tangible movement that placed the words in the mouths of those far outside of Hollywood began with the publication of a story at the New York Times by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. She Said is the story of said story, and how two journalists looked at a few bad apples and, in turn, thought to burn the orchard down.
Following her reporting on the allegations of sexual assault against then-presidential candidate, soon-to-be-president Donald Trump, and facing the wrath of his fervent supporters in the aftermath, New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is struggling to find her groove after the lengthy harassment, as well as her maternity leave. She soon finds herself paired with journalist Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), as she begins a preliminary investigation into reports of sexual misconduct by Miramax/Weinstein Company CEO Harvey Weinstein after comments made by actress Rose McGowan. While initially probing McGowan for comment, the two journalists soon find a web of harassment, intimidation, retaliation, and sexual abuse from many women who worked under Weinstein. As they struggle to convince sources to go on the record for their story, Weinstein’s legal team begins circling the journalists, seeking to undo all the work they’ve accomplished thus far.
Listen, I think She Said is a very interesting film with a lot of great elements that could’ve come together to make a really effective experience overall. I would even argue that a good majority of this film is really well-assembled. But, I kept finding a fundamental issue at the core of She Said in that it seems as if the film’s screenplay was written with the knowledge of the effect that Kantor and Twohey’s story would have upon the industry, and the culture of women speaking about their experiences with sexual abuse in the workplace more. There’s an amalgamation of buzzwords that make the audience feel intelligent, like they were always one step ahead of everyone like these amazing journalists were, but I don’t believe for a second that these women knew that the effect their reporting would have on the entire system, nor do I find it indicting enough on those who casually ignored it for so long to remain in good graces with Weinstein. It seems far more interested in its bottom line than that of letting a story that took the world by storm on its own reporting merits take shape.
And that’s when things somewhat made sense for me. I couldn’t help but remember films like Lawless, Killing Them Softly, The Master, and The Grandmaster while watching She Said, with each being examples of films financed or distributed by The Weinstein Company that were produced by She Said production companies Annapurna Pictures and/or Plan B Entertainment. While the power dynamics remained in place for these companies, the uber-powerful individuals behind said companies fully had the means to not work with Weinstein knowing what everyone knew, but were too afraid to say.
But let us remove any outside influence and let us ignore that the screenplay seems to serve the producers more than the journalists. What works about She Said? Well, Kazan and Mulligan really do deliver some very convincing performances and genuinely take on the real-life roles of Kantor and Twohey very well, playing off each other wonderfully. The cinematography from Natasha Braier, while not particularly flashy (not like her work in something like The Neon Demon), is still gorgeous, sleek, and stark. Nicholas Britell’s musical score does nothing but convince me that this man has never written anything not completely masterful in his life. The film, while struggling with its screenplay, does feature some tight editing from Hansjörg Weißbrich, with one of the more effective ending cuts I’ve seen in a minute.
So, you can see where I struggled with She Said, particularly as someone who respects Kantor and Twohey so much as journalists. I want to see something that covers what happened and I want to see the world pile onto abusers and give them no room to breathe against their actions, but I also want a film that doesn’t seek to somehow imply that all people everywhere can now openly talk about their harassment at work because Weinstein is in jail, particularly only five years on from the inciting events detailed here. What followed Kantor and Twohey’s story was seismic, but the effects of such a story are still ongoing, and they never started, nor ended with just Weinstein. It has the elements of a good journalism film à la All the President’s Men and Spotlight; has the talent behind it to pull it off, but without the breathing room for reflection on the long-term effects of the work done. Top that off with a clunky, buzzword-ridden screenplay and the very self-congratulatory nature of a film so quickly being produced by three studios who have a history of working with Weinstein, and it all feels a little too swiftly patting oneself on the back for a job well done. It’s a shame because I know that what Kantor and Twohey did was truly incredible, and Kazan and Mulligan do their best to portray that, but there’s a fundamental flaw in a film like She Said being made within the system that enabled such a cycle of abuse for so long. It’s hard for me to not be a cynical bitch about a film so adamantly concerned with “taking on the entire system,” and then not doing that. But then again, burning down the bad apple orchard would cannibalize the industry looking to make this film so soon.
Read the book, though.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.
Screened during Film Fest 919 2022.
In theaters November 18th, 2022.
For more information, head to Universal Picture’s She Said website.