She Said is about the tenacity of women.
It takes an extraordinary amount to take down a monster, one of the most vicious ever to claim power in Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long campaign of sexual harassment and violence against women is woven into the cultural fabric. What may not be is how that happened. After all, Weinstein abused women for decades before his arrest and rightful ex-communication. Someone was responsible for speaking truth to the terrible power of the man and the people who enabled him.
She Said tells the stories of two: Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, investigative reporters for The New York Times. Based on their 2019 nonfiction book of the same name, the film follows Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as they carefully report on Weinstein’s extensive history of abuse. Weinstein targeted everyone, from famous actresses like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd, to Miramax employees like Rowena Chiu, Zelda Perkins, and Laura Madden. Kantor and Twohey find that their stories are unnervingly similar, as are the reactions to going on the record: fear. Weinstein wielded nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and settlements as weapons against former employees. Meanwhile, more famous survivors worried their stories would be ignored or used as tabloid fodder. The duo faces several obstacles – obfuscation, government bureaucracy, thin paper trails, Weinstein’s threats – but they remain committed to a story that would change the world.
Director Maria Schrader gives She Said its deserved weight by fashioning it as a thriller. She builds a clutching tension into Kantor and Twohey’s reporting, sourced from what we don’t see. Phone conversations frame much of the film, largely from the reporters’ sides. We rarely see reactions to their questions and requests. We can only infer from the changes in verbal tone and Kantor and Twohey’s demeanor. The limited perspective helps immerse us in the reporters’ anxieties about the story. Schrader also uses tension to enhance, but not exploit, the survivors’ stories. She overlays ominous, solitary scenes with harrowing, disturbing verbal testimonies. A camera advancing down an empty hotel hallway mimics Weinstein’s urgent harassment of Italian model Ambra Guiterrez, captured in a secret wire recording. We never see the violent acts, but we understand their psychic horror. It is a powerful choice that returns some agency to them.
She Said is equally compelling in its focus on Kantor and Twohey specifically. Rather than lose them to their reporting, Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz leave space for their personal lives. Both reporters are parents – Twohey to a newborn and Kantor to two daughters – and we see how their work and home lives intersect. Twohey finds focus as she deals with postpartum depression. Kantor sees the rape culture she interrogates bleed into interactions with her daughter, who reveals that she learned the word “rape” casually at school. There is also the misogyny they regularly face, magnified by the intensity of their work, like a man at a bar pestering them. Their experiences, coupled with the still-hostile landscape, further emphasize the investigation’s gravity and overwhelming stakes.
There are stumbles associated with that gravity, especially in how She Said incorporates real life. The film regularly blurs the lines of fictionalization. It uses real images of Rose McGowan and Gwenyth Paltrow but casts Keilly McQuail as McGowan’s voice while Paltrow provides her own. Ashley Judd is an especially jarring example. She appears as herself in a Zoom call that seems like real interview footage, but then the scene shifts to her perspective, confirming it is a recreation. There is power in Judd and Paltrow’s contributions, especially as key figures in the original Weinstein story. However, it does call into question what is and isn’t real. Does Schrader use Weinstein’s real voice in conversations with The Times editors? She doesn’t, but the film doesn’t need the complication.
What grounds She Said amidst the thumping intensity is its central performances. Together, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are a formidable pair, equally unflappable and empathetic in unspooling the complex narrative. Kazan is the film’s steadying force, emanating a gentle but firm presence that makes her work subtly devastating. Mulligan arguably has the heavier emotional scenes, but she still tempers them with a powerful restraint, even when she’s exploding with anger. It might be easy to define the co-leads as opposing forces, but they are true complements. The rest of the cast is excellent, including the sturdy Andre Brougher as The Times executive editor Dean Baquet and the fiery Samantha Morton as former assistant Zelda Perkins.
She Said encapsulates the seismic cultural shift of the Weinstein story with its deliberate focus. Like its subjects, the film doggedly pursues the truth. It shines a light on Weinstein’s abuses, the systems that abetted him, and how his crimes impacted scores of women. But She Said is not about Weinstein, not really. It is about the women who pushed beyond decades of silence and intimidation to demand more and better from the world that discounted them. It is a story about their tenacity and their power, the power to take down a monster.