The arrest of Harvey Weinstein on multiple sexual harrassment and sexual assault charges paved the way for a major shift in the operation of the toxic Hollywood machine. The #MeToo movement was built on people sharing experiences that were all too common, and feeling supported by the fact that there were so many like them who, for years, had been afraid to speak up because they thought, sadly and rightfully so, that they might not be believed. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that an unwillingness to speak publicly is what hindered the publication of the New York Times article that first truly exposed Weinstein, a journey chronicled in She Said.
In 2016, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) pursues claims of a rampant culture of sexual harrassment in the workplace and soon finds that almost everyone in Hollywood has something negative to say about the very powerful and notorious Weinstein. She brings in a fellow Times reporter, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), to help her investigate, and they find themselves constantly turned away by those who clearly have something to say but are terrified of the consequences of sharing it. Aware that they need undeniable proof of their claims before they publish, they pursue numerous leads and keep pushing, all while Weinstein and his team make it known that they are aware that he is the subject of their attention.
This is a story whose ending – Weinstein being sent to prison and #MeToo coming out of the article – should be well-known to any audience member. But what might not be universal knowledge is the extent to which his behavior was pervasive and talked about, and that horrific truth comes through when certain people are interviewed and make reference to wholly separate incidents that aren’t even known to the reporters since there are so many that different people know about from their own experiences dealing with and hearing about Weinstein. One statistic which proves particularly difficult to nail down is the exact or even approximate number of settlements doled out by Weinstein in response to filed claims, a major red flag that the way he acted was wholly unacceptable.
There are interesting choices made in what the film chooses to portray regarding those who accuse Weinstein and speak with the reporters. Ashley Judd, for instance, plays herself, an indication that she felt passionately about this project and wanted to be a part of it. That isn’t true of most other victims, and therefore Gwyneth Paltrow never appears on camera and is only referenced. Similarly, Weinstein himself is only seen from the back, and a voice reenacts him speaking as recorded by one of his victims. While perhaps intended to frame Kantor, Twohey, and the women who suffered abuse from Weinstein as the center of the story, it proves a distracting device that begs additional questions about whether others may have been asked to participate in the film but declined.
Kazan and Mulligan are both very capable actresses, and much of their performances require them to be dogged investigators and express great frustration at the many obstacles placed in their way despite breakthroughs they know to be important but have yet to officially confirm on the record. Mulligan at times channels a great rage which spews out the anger she feels on behalf of all harassed women and lets loose on a bar patron who makes the mistake of demeaning her repeatedly. Kazan’s turn is the more relatable one, easily moved by the stories she is hearing, and she is in good company with memorable appearances from Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle as former employees and victims of Weinstein.
Director Maria Schrader, whose previous credits include I’m Your Man and Unorthodox, steps behind the camera to guide this story, bringing a distinctly female perspective to a story that does feature committed male characters like Andre Braugher’s executive editor Dean Baquet, who rightfully defers to his female colleagues in most encounters. This retelling of an important and impactful piece of journalism and recent American history has its poignant moments but lacks a clear cinematic vision to elevate it to something like Spotlight, which gleaned new meaning from its transformation into a film. The inspiring content compelling and moving on its own, and the film does little to add to that. There is still much to be learned and taken from She Said, a straightforward and competent look at a disturbingly true story.
Following its world premiere in the Spotlight section at the New York Film Festival, She Said will be released theatrically on November 18th.