Films about news journalism are rarely very glamourous. While the excitement of breaking a news story gives us movies made about that very thing, the daily grind and legwork that go into piecing a story together are decidedly the very opposite of alluring, even on-screen. One only needs to look to Spotlight and All The President’s Men to see the long nights spent in badly lit, uninspiring office spaces as news journalists toil over sources, edits, and deadlines. This is not flashy magazine and fashion journalism, à la The Devil Wears Prada. This is knocking on doors unannounced and constant, never-ending cold call investigation. It’s dogged journalists pursuing leads and preparing to break a world-changing story.
In the case of She Said, that breaking news story is the rampant sexual assault of women at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. It’s a story that shook Hollywood to its core and ignited a worldwide reckoning of abusive men in power. In airing Hollywood’s dirty laundry out in the open, New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s bombshell report birthed real change.
Five years after their first article was published, director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz adapt Kantor and Twohey’s book about how the story came to be in She Said. The resulting feature follows Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as they delve into sexual harassment at some of America’s biggest companies and at the hands of some of those workplace’s most senior staff. When they hear of Rose McGowan’s (voiced by Keilly McQuail in phone calls) sexual harassment claims against Weinstein, they decide to dig further. With the support of their editors Rebecca Corbett (a radiant Patricia Clarkson) and Dean Baquet (Andrew Braugher), the duo wades deep into Weinstein and Miramax’s past, uncovering shocking allegations against the superstar producer as far back as the 1990s. With victims reluctant to speak out due to NDAs and potential legal ramifications, Kantor and Twohey face an uphill battle in encouraging women to come forward to tell their stories.
Despite being a somewhat by-the-numbers procedural, there is no denying She Said is an important story to tell. But while it results in strong performances from its main cast, the film as a whole falls flat. Rarely bringing tension levels above a simmer, this is a story told through hushed dinner conversations and phone calls – so many phone calls. Schrader directed last year’s absolutely wonderful I’m Your Man and it is disappointing to see that same creative vision missing here. Schrader chooses to let the big story do the talking, which leads to some unfortunately dry screen time as we watch time pass by while the reporters wait for returned phone calls.
Where She Said does offer some more compelling storytelling is through the victims’s recounting of their abuse. Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, and Angela Yeoh give marvellous performances as women whose lives were irreparably changed by these attacks. While McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow are central figures in the story, they do not appear in She Said, but are frequently mentioned. Ashley Judd, one of Weinstein’s 82 accusers and among the first high-profile celebrities to publicly speak out, does appear on-screen as herself, recounting her story and how speaking out led to her being blacklisted in Hollywood. Judd’s appearance makes for a powerful reminder that this is a very real and very recent story with real-world consequences. One of the film’s most creative and powerful scenes comes with the use of the actual audio of Weinstein coercing an Italian model in his hotel room. It is this real-world recording that demonstrates exactly what kind of man these women were up against.
Kazan and Mulligan give commendable performances as they try to balance their home lives as wives and mothers while chasing leads, but the film never seems able to stir up much drama. With Bombshell starring Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman recently covering similar territory in a much flashier way, She Said feels as though it misses the opportunity to add more to an important conversation. Perhaps because the outcome is still so fresh in our recent memories, the reality simply hits harder than any facsimile on the story on screen.
Though competently told, She Said misses the mark when it comes to making a statement on Weinstein and the #MeToo movement as it fails to rise above a rote procedural drama.
She Said opens in theatres on November 18.