Movie Review: She Said

Reviewed by Paul Gibbs

She Said , director Maria Schraeder’s drama depicting the New York Times investigation into allegations against Harvey Weinstein, is not a film that can be viewed or reviewed within a vaccum. Ny meaningful analysis of the film requires the viewer to consider their own feelings about the culture of sexual assault and harassment, accontability, and complicity. For me, ever since the allegations and agaisnt then candidate Donald Trump and the infamous Access Hollywood tape, that’s involved a lot of soul-searching. Nothing remotely resembling sexual assault or any egregious form of harrasment is in my nature. But I’ve certainly found myself questioning every time I was present when seemingly playful jokes may have gone too far, when I may have either failed to recognize the need to say “Knock it off” or even found myself going along to fit it. When I found myself taking a Dumb and Dumber “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” attitude when I should have realized I was being let down gently. And a few deeply upsetting incidents where I myself wasa victim of forms of sexual harrasment. I completely reject the narrative that’s formed in some reactionary circles that there is some sort of rash of hyseterical or or malicious rash of false accucations. I also reject the narrative that the anti-harassment movement is anti-male, and argue that those who see it as such are revealing something ugly in their own concept of what it means to be male.

All of this is thematically important to She Said, which begins with jourmalist Megan Twohey (Carrie Mulligan) investigating the Trump accusations. There will no doubt be backlash from some parts of the political right over a film about the crimes of the famously liberal Weinstain including dirt on Trump. But not only is this crucial to the story and development of Twohey as a character, it’s the cultural turning point in attitudes on the subject (as I addressed in the previous paragraph.). As Twohey reports on the subject, she’s mercilessly attacked on Fox News (where the absurdly irrelevant question “Are you a feminist?” is treated as an accusation) and subjected to threatenign phone calls, all as she’s reaching the end of pregnancy with her first child.

Over a year later, fellow journalist Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) is working on a story about pervaise sexual harrasment in the workplace when she discovers accusations against Hollywood super producer Harvey Weinstein, eventually enlisting Twohey in the invetigation. The fact that we know how this investigation plays out (Weinstein is currctly on trial) might seem to eliminate any sense of suspense, but I was riveted by seeing Kantor and Twohey cut through the web of lies, silence and non-disclosure agreements. And how the survivors of Weinsetin’s abuse found the courage to speak up about the horrible things that had been done to them and had cause them (in some cases) decades of psychological and emotional damage.

She Said is by necessity somewhat documentarian and journalistic in its cinematic style. It contains a flood of information that the filmmakers have to resent accurately, and it chooses to limit its concession to dramatic adaptation. Kantor and Twohey are not given elaborate character arcs to get us more into them as characters, and the mercifully tasteful choice is made not to include dramtizations of the disturbing accounts of Weinstein’s horrific assaults. Instead, we were testimony being given while we see the interioir of an empty hotel room, for exaample. Not only that, but the film deals with the acts of a villain who is only seen through photographs and (in one scene) the back of a lookalike’s head. All of this is going to make the film feel too much like a news report and too little like a dramatic film for some. As a filmmaker who has mixed art with activism myself, I found myself recognizing the challenges and limitations with which the filmmakers were faced, and only admiring She Said more because of it. But there’s no question reaction on this point will be divided.

Kazan and Mulligan give excellent performances, and Schraeder and screenwriter Rebecca Lenciewicz skillfully give us small glimpses into their family lives which help make the characters human and relatable. They’re aided by a superb supporting cast, with standouts including the great Andre Braugher as supportive editor Dean Baquet; Samantha Morton as a witness Zelda Perkins; and especially Jennifer Ehle as survivor Laura Madden, in a turn that’s both hearbreaking and inspiring.

She Said will face challenges in its effor to connect with commerical audiences. And while every serious film released at this time of year is talked about in terms of its Oscar chances, this one is utterly unique in that regard: Weinstein was perhaps best known as the master of agressive Oscar campaigning, and through most of the ’90s and early 2000s his Miramax Films was a mainstay in the top categories, for a mix of genuine classics and mediocre Oscar bait. A large number of Academy voters were contemporaries with Weinstein, and many have faced questions of what they knew and what they did and didn’t do about it. At very least it confronts Hollywood with a sinister part of its culture it’s still in the midst of dealing with. That could give the film contemporary relevance with voters or scare them off.

But more important than the film’s commercial or awards prospects is what it contributes to the conversation on these issues. For some it will be a reminder, and for others it will be a look in greater detail into the appalling crimes. Either way, my hope is that it counteracts our tendency be weary of the isse, and remember how vital it is that it be confronted. And as the father of two young boys, I hope we as a culture have the maturity to see that we shouldn’t worry about the being subjected to a culture of false accusations, but rather one which teaches them that the objectification and victimization of women is part of being male.

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