The film begins shortly before the 2016 Presidential election, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is helping lead an investigation into the sexual assault accusations involving then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, but is wracked with guilt over the threats and attacks made against the accusers, including one being sent human waste stuffed inside an envelope. Months later, Jodi Cantor (Zoe Kazan) hopes to recruit Twohey in her investigation into the accusations made against Weinstein by actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd (who plays herself on screen). While Weinstein’s tactics to silence the women prove to be a hurdle for Twohey and Cantor, their investigation leads to some shocking and unexpected places, while they also reflect on the burdens that society already places upon women, and their roles as mothers to help protect their daughters, but also how to make them away of the dangers the world holds for young women.
One of the more interesting aspects of She Said is Maria Schrader’s approach to telling this story in the most grounded way possible that avoids sensationalizing or making light of the women whose stories help guide Twohey and Cantor in their piece. The pacing is intentionally slow and the conversations and dialogue written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz feel to-the-point and any moments of levity feel natural. Some may be underwhelmed by She Said‘s dry nature, but at the same time, it would be hard to argue that the film should’ve been told in a more artistic way. The editing in the first act can at times be awkward and even jarring in its setup, moving at a much more brisk pace, and while the content itself was important to the film, it clashes with the rest of the film. The main character of the film isn’t either of the two journalists, it’s the investigation itself and if anything were to be added in to add some extra drama to the film, would have felt insincere and gone against the point of the movie.
Schrader also makes an effort never to show the face of Weinstein, nor does it have any of the acts of violence take place on the screen. Weinstein’s presence throughout the film is almost entirely composed of phone calls, where he’s voiced by Mike Houston, a move that felt appropriate and makes the film feel even weightier than it already does. If the film were to cast an actor to physically portray Weinstein on-screen, it likely would have been distracting and would have taken away from the investigation itself. In place, the film occasionally cuts to documentary-like footage of empty hotel hallways, where we hear the recorded conversations between Weinstein and his victims, which are some of the film’s most chilling, heartbreaking, and infuriating moments. While Ashley Judd portrays herself on screen, the film noticeably never shows Rose McGowan’s face, with Kelly McQuail providing her voice through phone calls; while that initially might bring cause for concern, it’s ultimately appropriate, as the film even brings up how the newspaper ignorantly dismissed her claims long before the investigation breaking the actress’ trust. In fact, Judd is the only actress that is shown on screen; Gwyneth Paltrow is mentioned, but instead, the film mainly focuses on the interviews with the interns and assistants who were victimized by the producer.
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan’s takes on Twohey and Cantor aren’t particularly showy, nor do we get much background into their character’s personal lives, but they do exactly what’s intended for them, and without their presence, the film likely wouldn’t have packed as big of a punch. Mulligan’s Megan Twohey is shown to be unsurprised by the story, but heartbroken nonetheless, she has the same kind of confident energy that she brought to her past roles, making it easy to become attached, even if her story isn’t the focus. A similar thing can be said for Kazan as Jodi Cantor, who has such natural chemistry with Mulligan, but it’s her scenes that she shares with the victims and their families that leave the biggest impression. One scene, in particular, sees Cantor approaching the husband of one of the interns out of his home, where it is revealed that he was completely unaware of his wife’s encounters with Weinstein. Schrader’s direction lets the awkwardness of the scene play out in the scene that makes it devastating to watch.
The biggest stand-out performers in She Said are Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle as two of Weinstein’s former assistants. It’s their storylines, both in the past and in the present, where the emotions hit the hardest and a glimpse at the consequences Weinstein’s unforgivable actions had on these women’s lives.
She Said features just about everything you would expect from a true-to-life journalism movie, even with the heavy subject matter at the forefront and the fact that a lot of the audience may already know the outcome, it never stops the movie from being engaging as the New York Times’ journalists’ race to get the story published. When the film was first announced, there were concerns about whether or not She Said would feel like a self-congratulatory piece from Hollywood, and fortunately, it doesn’t. It’s narratively straightforward and gets its point across in a clear way, which was the best direction for the film to go. She Said doesn’t rewrite the playbook of films about journalism, but it didn’t need to. Maria Schrader’s direction and Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s writing hit every important beat just right, leaving us with an impactful film that’s genuine and never fake.
She Said comes to theaters on November 18.