She Said: An Analytic, Direct and Emotional Triumph!

Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures - © Universal Studios

Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and editor Rebecca Corbett are the three women credited for the New York Times investigation: “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades”, published Oct. 5, 2017. Writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey authored the joint 2019 New York Times Best-Selling memoir “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.” Universal’s adaptation of the memoir She Said follows Kantor and Twohey’s journey in researching this story and some grounding moments in the journalists’ personal lives.

Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) standing in the hallway of the New York Times offices
Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures – © Universal Studios

Though we see both Kantor and Twohey deal with external issues, the film’s core focus is on the investigation and the experiences of the survivors. She Said, at its forefront, is a story written by women, directed by women, and carried by women for women; written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Maria Schrader, with Weinstein’s survivors consulted at every turn.

The long 128-minute run time is slow but worth it for an intense, thrilling chase for the truth, starting with Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and her New York Times investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Donald Trump. It’s honestly incredible that this story is based on reality because beginning Twohey’s character arc with an exploration of similar nature to the one on Harvey Weinstein, where it has little to no impact, then watching her pick herself up and get involved in the Weinstein article and help lay the groundwork for an entire movement is an awe-inspiring turn of events.

Zoe Kazan’s Jodi Kantor is a wonder to watch. There is something to be said about watching this play out through the eyes of journalists and not the survivors; it offers a muted experience. Though Kazan sometimes delivers an emotional performance, for the most part, these New York Times journalists are restrained, professional, and to the point; they’re doing their job. Sure, emotional labor is involved, but their point of view is removed from the story’s true heart, which is the long list of Weinstein’s accusers and survivors.

Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) sitting on a desk with Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) sitting at the desk on speaker phone talking about the investigation
Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures – © Universal Studios

Bookending She Said with re-enacted moments from the actual accusers’ lives gave the otherwise remote emotional ride a heartbeat with gut-wrenching empathy for the women affected by Harvey Weinstein’s tyranny. Had the film been entirely from their perspective, I’m not sure it would have had the same effect. Harsh dramas from that rough angle can often numb the audience. Feeding the narrative to an audience somewhat removed gives a greater perspective and opportunity to engage and understand.

Beginning with a young Lauren Madden discovering the set of a Miramax film having a whirlwind spin into a PA runner with a flash cut to her fleeing down the street clutching her purse in an emotional escape from what we can only infer was the instance Weinstein assaulted her was a remarkable way to open the film. We, as the audience, are thrown into the emotional mayhem of getting bliss: seeing where your life may go should you prevail, to the horrifying shame, guilt, and anguish after being assaulted—a glimpse of a dream to a harsh, terrifying reality.

That snippet was enough for me; any more and I would have shut down.

Sticking to reality served this story’s gender dynamics well. They didn’t play into a binary of men in power = evil and men without power = good. Mulligan getting a phone call from a random man threatening to assault and murder her after the Trump article went viral was a perfect example of a powerless man playing the villain. Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) and Lance Maerov (Sean Cullen) being lead editors at the New York Times, men in power, and actively participating, supporting, and protecting Kantor and Twohey at every step was very refreshing to watch.

Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) gathered around Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) on the phone with Harvey Weinstein (Mike Houston) in the New York Times offices
Photo by JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures – © Universal Studios

With the comforting presence of Braugher and Cullen and Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, the film felt safe from the abuse their investigation was exposing. It was clever directing, writing, and cinematography (Natasha Braier). Lenkiewicz, Schrader and Braier skillfully depict assaults through dialogue description or audio recordings with imagery of haunting hotel corridors and exquisitely set-decked hotel rooms. The re-enactments of survivors were entirely their own, Harvey Weinstein may be the critical abuser in this story, but he is not given the spotlight in this retelling. She Said focuses on those affected by Weinstein and thoughtfully so.

Although in the age of digital media, investigations are not under the time crunch of going to print, it does not mean there is no time crunch or pressure. This film doesn’t necessarily have that big anxiety feeling of racing against the tide, but it does have stakes, and it does have timelines. She Said proudly sticks to the source material and does not amplify drama for the sake of amplifying drama; this film is a tasteful retelling that honors reality.

I found She Said long and quiet in comparison to other feminist “thrillers” floating around; however, that does not make it a failure. This film offers more than a thrill and a chase; it’s a subtle essay about real people with integrity and the desire to enlighten and seek the truth. There is power in that, and there is comfort in the success of these women. Despite the grim nature of the investigation’s context, I found this film uplifting – progress can be made; progress has been made.

Taking away from the incredible work done on She Said is one name: Brad Pitt. An alleged abuser of Angelina Jolie and a decades-long bystander to Weinstein’s antics, Brad Pitt is the sole owner and CEO of Plan B Entertainment, one of the main production companies on this film. His name appears in the credits. I find it extremely disheartening that the Brads of the world can put their names on and behind projects of this nature. I find it infuriating, actually, and I sincerely wish it weren’t the case here. The knowledge leaves a bitter taste in the mouth after such a beautiful film.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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