NOTE: This review was originally part of our 2022 Middleburg Film Festival coverage.
In the opening shot of She Said, an Irish woman stumbles upon a film set while walking her dog. In the next scene, she joins the crew, mingling and laughing with her coworkers. With an abrupt cut, she is running through an Irish street, sobbing uncontrollably.
Its an apt representation of how quickly a woman’s life is upheaved after a sexual assult. Ironically, the rest of She Said’s running time is spent uncovering how long and hard real life New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) fought for justice for Harvey Weinstein’s victims. Based on their book of the same name, the film details their pursuit to find one woman to willingly go on the record with their experience.
In the same tradition of The Post, The President’s Men, and Spotlight, we follow Kantor and Twohey from the story’s inception to when they press ‘publish’. Guiding them in their investigation are their superiors Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) as doors are slammed in their face and women are reluctant to come forward.
As lead actresses, Mulligan and Kazan are great stewards of this story. Tasked with pushing the plot forward and still being its emotional center, both women walk that fine line between being and telling the story. They both find beats of humor in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’ script, adding a smirk here and there for good measure. Mulligan’s Twohey is fresh off of giving birth when she takes this assignment, and the actress does a brilliant job weaving that into her character’s motivations.
While Mulligan and Kazan lead a compelling journalism drama, She Said reaches its pinnacle when it focuses on the individual stories of the victims. Actress Ashley Judd, who was the catalyst for getting the Weinstein scandal published, plays herself in one of the most interesting performances of the year. To talk about your sexual assault is one thing, but to play that past version of yourself is brave. There is something self assured about her performance, still vulnerable but just as commanding as if she were playing a fictional character in the same situation.
Samantha Morton plays an adult version of Zelda Perkins, a former assistant for the Weinstein company in London. Wanting to speak but bound by the NDA she signed, she gives Kantor all she can including the notes she was allowed to take of her agreement. Morton’s performance radiates a quiet rage, reflecting the same emotion most women in the audience feel at some moment in their lives.
Contrasting Morton, is Jennifer Ehle’s Laura Madden, who we come to find out is the young Irish woman. Still raising her kids, dealing with breast cancer and reluctant to come forward. Madden holds the key to breaking this story and Morton’s down to earth performance feels the most relatable. Not wanting to come forward, wanting to just move on, she puts a little bit of all of us into Laura.
Director Maria Schrader ( the brilliant miniseries Unorthodox and I’m Your Man) uses tricks from past newspaper movies like The President’s Men and Spotlight, even Bombshell, to tell the story of how the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. She knows how to play with tension and when to release the valve. With the amount of coverage and discussion that has revolved around Weinstein since 2017, she trusts the audience enough to put the pieces together themselves.
She Said is not only a thrilling and vital new entry into the journalism film lexicon, but shows how to handle depictions of sexual violence. Schrader places women in front and behind the camera and Weinstein’s face is never shown. The drive for justice is centered on women, not on the men that condemned them in the first place.
She Said is in theaters this Friday, Nov. 18. Watch the trailer below.