The 2019 book She Said by New York Times Pulitzer winning journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey offered a stunning account of a system that failed women on multiple levels. In recounting how they broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal they provided a searing indictment of sexual harassment in the workplace and those who often enabled it. Maria Schrader’s adaptation of the same name understands the importance of Kantor and Twohey’s investigation and makes sure audiences are reminded of it every step of the way.
In dramatizing the events that would ultimately reignite Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement on social media, Schrader’s film wears its importance on its sleeve. Characters express the need to expose a whole system that protects abusers and continues to put women in jeopardy. While this endeavour made for a riveting book, it does not necessarily make for a cohesive film.
Those who have read the book, or followed the pair’s reporting in real time, will find that all the key events in Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey’s (Carey Mulligan) investigation are touched on here. The film highlights everything from the challenges that the journalists had in getting the women who were victimized to go on the record to the roadblocks that Weinstein’s camp put in the way at every turn. Unfortunately, since She Said attempts to cover so much ground in two-hours, it rarely takes the time to fully explore any of the avenues it travels.
One of the aspects that made the book so powerful was the fact that it provided well-rounded insight into the predatory habits of Weinstein, the victims of his abuse of power, and the terrifying ways in which intimidation and money were used to cover up the numerous incidences at all levels. She Said never cuts deeply into any of the meaty topics on its plate. Many of the tactics that Weinstein used are only hinted at and key players like Lisa Bloom (Anastasia Barzee), daughter of attorney and women’s right advocate Gloria Allred, who served as an advisor for Weinstein, are reduced to a few scenes.
The awkwardness in how individuals like Bloom are introduced and utilized translates over to the brave women who ultimately spoke out against Weinstein as well. The way Schrader weaves individuals like Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh), who both share their horrifying encounters with the producer, into the film never quite gels the way one hopes. Unlike the celebrities like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashely Judd, the only one to appear in the film, where audiences can fill in the blanks, one does not get to know the women victimized beyond a surface level.
To her credit, Schrader does not revictimize the women by offering re-enactments of their encounters with Weinstein. Instead, she lets the audience formulate their own chilling mental images. An example of this arrives when the camera slowly glides down a hotel hallway as a real recording of Weinstein trying to persuade a woman into his suite is played. Hearing the women recount their harrowing experiences also adds weight to film’s warnings about the prevalence of rape culture, which often starts at a young age, in our society.
She Said is most riveting when allowing the women to share their stories and documenting the daily grind of journalism. Schrader strips the profession of the glamour that Hollywood places on it and shows the grueling longs hours that come with following crumbs in hopes of them leading to a treasure trove of information. As the pressure to get the story right increases, especially after the pair become aware that Ronan Farrow was also doing a story on Weinstein at The New Yorker, one sees the toll it begins to take on Kantor and Twohey.
For their parts, Kazan and Mulligan deliver strong performances as the two journalists. Unfortunately, one does not learn much about the two women outside of the assignment at hand. The film touches on the challenges of being working mothers and Twohey’s battle with post-partum depression, but never in a way that truly resonates. The supporting cast, which includes Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher as Rebecca Corbett and Dean Baquet, do not fair much better. While all the performances are sound, the full impact of just how important their characters were in ensuring that the Kantor and Twohey kept digging for the truth is not felt.
While She Said understands the importance of the story it is telling, it never reaches the heights of other investigative films. For a film with such weighty subject matter, it ultimately feels light in its construction. She Said gets the facts right but it pales in comparison to the riveting book and investigation that inspired it.