‘She Said’ Is a Journalism Drama That Never Sensationalizes

Perhaps the most defining sequence in director Maria Schrader’s She Said—an accounting of the New York Times investigation that helped bring down rapist Harvey Weinstein, premiering at the New York Film Festival on Thursday—is its opening one. It’s something of a montage, in which a young woman in 1992 Ireland stumbles upon a film set and, awed by all the excitement and bustle, ends up working on the crew. These are the first near-magical stirrings of a career, perhaps even a passion. But then Schrader cuts to that young woman running tearfully down a city street, clutching her clothes, crying and frightened. The dream, so briefly enjoyed, is over.

The same is true for many of the women who suffered at the hands of Weinstein, an infamous Hollywood figure who was first publicly revealed as a serial sexual abuser by Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. She Said, based on Kantor and Twohey’s book of the same name, is a gentle procedural that offers ample room for some of Weinstein’s victims to say their piece, in lightly fictionalized form.

In addition to the victims, the movie also draws a portrait of the two reporters, working mothers each approaching the story from a slightly different angle. Twohey, played by Carey Mulligan, is tough and flinty at work, though is perhaps struggling with postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, is more settled in her family life, but takes a softer, maybe less confident, tack in her reporting. I don’t know if these depictions are entirely accurate, but they add a crucial human texture to the film’s process. It helps to feel we know something of the person sitting across the table as victims tell their stories. Both Mulligan and Kazan give natural and measured performances, befitting of Schrader’s restrained take on the material.

The acting standouts, though, are Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, a former Miramax employee who left the company after a friend and co-worker was assaulted, and Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden, the woman from the film’s opening, now older and battling cancer. Seeing these women, decades after their trauma but still living, with sad resignation, in its aftermath, gives poignant testament to the long-lasting effect of Weinstein’s predation. It’s in these scenes, intimate as they are, that She Said turns to consider the true enormity of what is being spoken about here, the countless lives forever altered or derailed by people like Weinstein. The film resists any grand indicating, though; both Morton and Ehle simply tell their characters’ stories and let their real-world implications speak for themselves.

There is easily a version of this film that is filled with righteous speechifying and corny bits of cinematic indulgence. She Said avoids those traps, even if a few instances—Twohey yelling at a solicitous jerk at a bar, Kantor having a pointed video chat with her daughter—feel perhaps too on-the-nose, too designed to telegraph the film’s larger context. For the most part, She Said dwells in the immediacy of what’s being uncovered and negotiated.

I wish there was more granular process in the film, though. Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz briskly glide through several stages of the investigation, leaving out various discoveries and not showing much of Twohey and Kantor synthesizing information together as it dreadfully metastasizes. It would be gripping and instructive so see all that diligent work, just as it was in Spotlight or, certainly, All the President’s Men. The Weinstein saga is big enough to merit that detailed attention, but She Said only gives us an overview of how this seismic thing was brought to light.

If that storytelling decision was made so there was more room for the intimate human factor, then it was an understandable one. She Said has a calmly insistent moral clarity, earned through its patient empathy, its quiet awe not at the insidiousness of what Weinstein did, but at the mettle and courage of the women who endured it—and then spoke out about it. Maybe it’s strange that a film about rampant abuse should feel so warm, but She Said is heated by its steadfast compassion, its determination that the right thing be done and remembered. The film may not be an exactingly precise re-creation of journalistic practice, but it confidently embodies the spirit of what these women did. That Schrader lets that accomplishment play out sans any Hollywood mugging is its own kind of boldness, a refusal to sentimentalize in the manner of so many based-on-a-true-story films. The facts, after all, are plenty dramatic and damning enough.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Start typing and press Enter to search