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‘She Said’ — exposing the predatory behaviour of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein

‘She Said’ — exposing the predatory behaviour of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein
‘She Said’ film art. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

‘She Said’, a slow, steady and significant biographical drama starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, looks at the investigative journalists whose Pulitzer Prize-winning work exposed movie tycoon Harvey Weinstein, kickstarting the #MeToo movement for social change.

Non-Americans may not have been familiar with the sexual misconduct claims from female employees at Fox News, which led to the firing of CEO Roger Ailes (explored in the Oscar-winning 2019 film Bombshell). But there’s a good chance you have heard of the allegations against Hollywood heavyweight and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein, which sparked the #Metoo movement around the world and encourages women to speak openly about harassment and abuse they have received or are receiving.

The knock-on effect of these candid discussions has been spotlighting the broken systems that enable such behaviour to continue. Going back to the start — looking at how hushed whispers triggered ripples that would become a tsunami — is precisely what She Said does. 

From Unorthodox director Maria Schrader, and Disobedience screenwriter (and playwright) Rebecca Lenkiewicz, She Said tracks how New York Times investigative journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) got people to go on the record, and bring Weinstein to justice after decades of preying on the young women he had power over. Twohey and Kantor’s efforts would win them a Pulitzer Prize, although obviously, that was never their goal.

Now, it’s fair to say that She Said won’t be for everyone. The film sits among the All the President’s Men and Spotlights of the cinematic world, celebrating reporters who doggedly pursue the truth. These movies don’t often find mainstream appeal, probably because they’re not really “big screen” cinematic. There’s a lot of phone calls, poring over documents, people clustered around screens as articles are collaboratively written, and our heroes sitting cross-armed in boardrooms with silver-haired editorial staff. 

Production still from 'She Said'. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey (left) and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor (right) in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

(from left) Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett (left), Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey (centre) and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor (right) in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

(from left) Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher), and Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) in SHE SAID, directed by Maria Schrader.

(from left) Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor, Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey, Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet and Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

(from left) Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) in SHE SAID, directed by Maria Schrader.

Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor (left) and Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey (right) in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

She Said is an important film. It’s frequently chilling. But it’s also very much in this genre mould. In remaining true to real-life events — demonstrating an integrity and determination to match Twohey and Kantor’s — She Said isn’t consistently gripping. The film waxes and wanes, then waxes again over its 129-minute run-time as it refuses to neatly connect the dots of its narrative. It has some pacing issues as a result.

In its defence, She Said doesn’t lack visual flair. One particularly memorable scene calls to mind the most ominous moments of The Shining. The camera meanders down the opulent yet suffocating passageways of a hotel where Weinstein would assault women, all while playing a voice recording of a typical exchange between the moviemaker and one of his victims. Like the film as a whole, it’s an unflinching exposé but it’s never gratuitous. Then again, it doesn’t have to be in order to be impactful. 

It’s the performances that mostly energise She Said. Mulligan and Kazan demonstrate two different personality and interpersonal relationship styles, with Mulligan tapping into the indignant fire against injustice that we’ve already seen from her in Promising Young Woman. Her Twohey is equal parts no-nonsense and anxious — based on her previous experiences pursuing similar stories. Meanwhile, Kantor is softer and less intimidating, but no less effective in getting people to open up.

The stars in She Said steady the ship, with Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher appearing in memorable supporting roles. What really electrifies the film though are the near back-to-back accounts of former Miramax employees Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle). Oscar-worthy in their delivery, these monologues mine the complex feelings of abuse survivors, made even more knotty in the Weinstein case as many of his victims accepted settlements for keeping their mouths shut. 

For the record, Ashley Judd appears as herself in the film, representing one of the high-profile actresses who spoke up against Weinstein and how he exerted his substantial influence to snuff out her career when she resisted his advances. Rose McGowan has a vocal stand-in for phone conversations shown in the movie, while Gwyneth Paltrow is also represented, but does not appear.

(from left) Hywel Madden (Wesley Holloway), Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) and Iris Madden (Justine Colan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Wesley Holloway as Hywel Madden (left), Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden (centre) and Justine Colan as Iris Madden (right) in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey in ‘She Said’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

She Said refuses to succumb to sensationalism, or traditional Hollywood moments for audiences to cheer over. As an example, the Weinstein story doesn’t break with all his victims standing together to speak out. A few individual voices had to bravely go on the record alone, despite the target this would place on their back from the exceptionally well-connected and lawyered-up Weinstein. 

So, She Said is slow at times, and definitely sombre. Fortunately, though, it’s not relentlessly gloomy. There’s an enjoyable, natural camaraderie between Twohey and Kantor (which you rarely see in female professional relationships onscreen), plus gratification in how Andre Braugher’s executive editor outmanoeuvres the bully Weinstein every step of the way. More importantly, though, She Said doesn’t become overly fixated on legal justice at the expense of the women affected by Weinstein’s actions. 

Before the credits roll, and we get the inevitable text screen summary of how events played out in reality, the film pays tribute to the courage of the survivors of abuse. Throughout She Said, there is never any judgment over how the women reacted, vastly different from case to case. And in the end, their carrying on, despite how the assault forever altered their life path, is a true act of bravery and triumph. DM/ML

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com

She Said is available in South Africa in cinemas from 18 November.

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