"She Said" TCFF Review
This film was viewed as past of the Twin Cities Film Festival. A full list of films that I saw at the festival can be viewed here.
Of the hundreds of cinematic subgenres, investigative journalism seems to have the highest bar set by its predecessors. All the President’s Men set the stage with its punctual retelling of Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting of the Watergate scandal, which earned itself four Oscar wins from eight nominations. Then came the equally Oscar-coveted films The China Syndrome, Reds, The Killing Fields, and The Insider. Of course, then there was Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which, with its win for Best Picture, will perpetually be the model of comparison for any future movies in the genre. The Post and Bombshell, while good in their own right, cracked under the newly lifted weight of expectations.
So, let’s get the inevitable question out of the way. Is She Said, Maria Schrader’s new film about The New York Times’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as good as Spotlight? The answer to that question is “no.” But hold on a minute! Even with its deficiencies, this is still a more than worthy (and timely) addition to the genre, and the 2022 movie culture.
Coming off her Outstanding Directing Emmy win for Netflix’s Unorthodox, Schrader delivers a tense thriller that never ceases to let up. From the get-go, we’re introduced to Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as she’s publishing a story about a series of sexual assaults by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. While the story picks up traction, the intended result doesn’t come to fruition, sewing doubt about what can be done to stop this problem.
Working on a similar story is Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan). Hers is about the perverse reign of Harvey Weinstein at Miramax Pictures, a figure and place synonymous with Oscar success and launching the careers of young actresses. But you don’t have to even peek under the covers to know that something is wrong, with several stars such as Rose McGowan and Ashely Judd coming out against Weinstein’s rampant sexual abuse. From there, the dots are connected to several other female employees within the Miramax machine, all of which were silenced by an intricate system designed to destroy anyone who opposes those in power.
Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida, Disobedience), the film packs in quite a lot of details within its two-hour-plus runtime. We watch as Twohey and Kantor make phone calls, collect leads, corroborate stories, meet with superiors, and dodge disruptors. It’s an all-consuming process that endangers their work-life balance, which was already in jeopardy with Twohey’s newborn and Kantor’s two young kids. Weeks and months go by as the two try to unshroud events that everyone is terrified to speak about.
Some of the ones that offer their side of the story are Zelda Perkins and Laura Madden, former assistants to Weinstein. Each is played by Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, respectively, both delivering terrifically heartbreaking work within their limited screen time.
While Lenkiewicz and Schrader are deftly able to handle those moments with the lesser-known victims, the same cannot be said for the bigger stars. A few cringe-worthy name drops, such as one mentioning Lena Dunham, and workarounds of showing the actual figures deflate some of the authenticity. And there is a slight sense of the script spinning its wheels as we cycle through similar stories and expository journalist jargon meant to keep us up to speed.
Along with those mentioned in the introduction, She Said will be a film that is taught in journalism classes for years to come. Maybe a drinking game will be created out of all the tropes it crosses off the list? Even so, there’s power in its message and a bit of hopefulness within the heartbreak.