‘She Said’ is Vocational Bait and Switch (and a Pretty Damn Good Movie)
Occasionally, a film comes along that glamorizes a profession or does such a good job in highlighting the importance of the work that it changes the course of a person’s life.
For better or worse, ‘She Said’ is almost certainly going to be one of those films.
Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in ‘She Said,’ directed by Maria Shrader. (Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures. Copyright:"© 2022 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
Based on the 2019 book of the same name by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, ‘She Said’ details the New York Times’ investigative report(s) on disgraced Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein and his lengthy history of sexual misconduct, the women who came forward to tell their stories, and the journalists that got the word out.
Kantor (Zoe Kazan), a Times reporter that’s been writing about workplace misconduct, receives a tip that actress Rose McGowan had been sexually assaulted by Weinstein. Having been previously burned or ignored by the media (and the industry), McGowan declines to comment. Eventually, she shares her story and provides some other breadcrumbs to progress the story. Soon after, Twohey (Carey Mulligan) returns from maternity leave and joins in the effort.
As pieces of the story begin (slowly) falling into place, more actresses come forward and speak to the writers, although many are too afraid – or legally banned from – going on the record. However, as word gets out and the extent of the depravity is brought to light, more people – victims and those with inside industry knowledge – come forward and the rest is history.
Hywel (Wesley Holloway), Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) and Iris (Justine Colan) in ‘She Said,’ directed by Maria Schrader. (Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures. Copyright:"© 2022 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
The good news: ‘She Said’ is almost certainly going to show intrepid young people the good a journalist can do. The bad news: the majority of them are going to quickly realize that 99% of the job is busy work and it’s not as glamorous or as important as the work done on the big screen.
How do I know this? Well, professors at the school of mass communication I attended showed my classes (at various times) ‘All the President’s Men,’ ‘The Paper,’ and ‘The Insider,’ and I quickly changed my focus from public relations to journalism. I had ideals, and I wanted to make a difference in the world … I spent the next 9+ years earning peanuts to cover city council, school board and planning commission meetings; photographing community rummage sales; and formatting press releases about the “yummy pancakes” available at an upcoming church breakfast. By year four I was barred from talking to interns after telling them to “find a second job that they really liked” when asked what my biggest piece of advice for an aspiring journalist was. Many of those interns persisted. Going forward, many others will, too. Hell, even I lasted another 5 years.
It’s a credit to the power of storytelling, a gold medal for seeking the truth. Kantor and Twohey did that in their reporting and subsequent book, and director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz have done it with the film adaptation.
Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader. (Universal Pictures. Copyright:"© 2022 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
I imagine you’d be hard pressed to find someone, especially in film circles, that’s unaware of this case. I think we all know how it turned out for old Harvey. But because of the way the story’s told, and the lesser-known facts that are fleshed out, Schrader and Lenkewicz keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what else other nefarious acts didn’t get reported on.
It truly skillful to take a story where the outcome is already known and tell it in a manner that has you waiting to see what happens next.
A lot of credit for that also lies with Kazan and Mulligan for bringing powerful, emotional performances to the screen. More than once, I found myself getting choked up and on the verge of applause (two things I don’t do in theaters). ‘She Said’ also features powerhouse performances from Ashley Judd, Samantha Morton, and Jennifer Ehle, as well as one of my personal favorites Andre Braugher.
‘She Said’ is an uncomfortable story to watch play out on the big screen, but it’s also an incredibly important story to watch play out on the big screen. The fact that it’s filled with excellent performances, storytelling, and technical expertise to make 129 minutes breeze by is simply a bonus.
★★★★ of ★★★★★