She Said (2022) Review
“WILL YOU GO ON THE RECORD?”
As many theatrical feature film endeavors have delved into fictional arena to find its narrative storytelling, others have taken strides into the more “real world”, with various accounts (albeit through a cinematic filmmaking lens) of depicting / examining lives and events of world and how sometimes the truth (the real truth) comes to light, which has been overlooked and / or suppressed due to its implications surrounding it. Taking on big corporations, exposing a hidden truth, or revealing an unspoken revelation, these narratives ring true within their dramatic storytelling, which is aided by its “based on a true story” framework, adding credence and palpability within its tale. Of course, Hollywood (over the years) has taken an interest in these narratives; producing such films like Zero Dark Thirty, Spotlight, The Report, Vice, Concussion, Dark Waters, and several others. Now, Universal Pictures and director Maria Schrader present the latest film project to openly discuss the “based on the true events” in the movie She Said; a journalistic investigation that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s abusive history towards women. Does this film find merit and strength in this palpable subject matter or is it a shallow attempt from Hollywood to shine light on its own misgivings?
In 2016, New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is working on a piece that exposes recent sexual misconduct allegations made against the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump yet is faced with heavy scrutiny from both the media and public, watching her work become trashy smut propaganda as Trump becoming elected as the next president of the United States. In 2017, after the successful journalism exposed the misconduct allegations made by FOX News host Bill O’Reilly, the New York Times, led by editors Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) and Rebecca Colbert (Patricia Clarkson), wishes to go further into such work placement allegations and inappropriate behaviors that have been silenced for years within major companies and business, with young TNYT journalist Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) sharing an interest into investigating film business industry giant Harvey Weinstein (Mike Houston) and the rumors that surround his involvement with women. After hearing from actress Rose McGowan (Kelly McQuail) account of her encounter with Weinstein, Kantor believes there is enough evidence to further investigate, enlisting the help from journalist Twohey to bring up substance to the piece. With their combined efforts, both Kantor and Twohey soon uncover something quite disturbing, with a plethora of women that had dealings with Weinstein, yet are fearful to come forward and go on the record, while other accounts are buried underneath legal court settlements to further expose such accusations that started all the way back since 90s. Faced with personal challenges and struggles in this investigation, Kantor and Twohey learn how “deep the rabbit hole” is in Weinstein’s inappropriate sexual behavior goes and how much the story that need to publish will help not just women involved, but for the women that could be affected in the future if they don’t speak up.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, this might sound familiar because I took the opening paragraph (and this one) from my review of 2019’s Dark Waters, due to the simple fact that both that movie and this one share similar points that I want to convey. Without further ado…. While I do love a good fictional cinematic narrative (no matter what genre it comes from), the idea of a “real life” tale (adapted as a feature length motion picture) has always intrigued me as I usual tend to gravitate towards such projects. While there have been many “based on true story” type of endeavors (again, from different styles of film genres), the narratives of either uncovering the truth and / or taking on the establishment (i.e the government or big corporations) has been a singular point of interest; finding the “hard truth” buried underneath coverups and legal matters. Maybe because these truths are usually something “big” and that have shocking revelations applications that many do now know; exposing true deed…whether good, bad, or informative. All of this is wrapped in the guise of a dramatic storytelling with the film bringing a “cinematic quality” of real-world events. Again, it’s just something about it that I find fascinating.
This brings me back to talking about She Said, a 2022 journalistic drama film that takes a hard look into the journalism integrity in bringing to light the sexual abuse of women towards motion picture mogul Harvey Weinstein. Of course, I knew who Harvey Weinstein was and with the recent scandal that came to light several years ago about his encounters with women in the workplace, but I was only shown what the media was showing. Basically, I didn’t go “in-depth” of what the accounts and accusations were made against Weinstein, but the media was certainly enthralled about, especially since this came out during the time when high profile individuals (i.e., actors, business moguls, CEOs, etc.) were being exposed for their inappropriate bad behavior and the treatment of women in the working place. Of course, I was disgusted by all of this, including Weinstein’s role in all of it, and proud of the women that can forward to share their experiences. As to be expected from Hollywood, it was almost a forgone conclusion that “Tinseltown” would eventually come around to depict the events that led up to this moment in the presentation of feature film. I don’t recall much about hearing about She Said when it was first announced, but I do remember when I first saw the film’s movie trailer, which was released sometime during the late summer months of 2022. From the trailer alone, it looked pretty good. As mentioned above (and in my other movie reviews), I do like the journalism movies that take an examination look at into something that is important by uncovering the truth and how those who are wanting to bring it to light against the opposing parties. A sense of Justice…. of which I was given that feeling while viewing the preview for She Said. So, I was definitely curious to see what She Said was going to be, how it would play out, and how it ultimately “leave its mark” on what need to say on the subject matter. So, it goes without saying that I did plan to see She Said when it was scheduled to be release on November 18th, 2022. I did see the movie during its opening day (immediately after work), but I waited a couple of weeks, due to my work schedule as well as getting out a few other reviews out before I decide to tackle this review. So, with my schedule a bit lighter and those previous reviews complete, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on the film. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite pacing issues and jumbling of various players throughout the narrative, She Said still manages to make for a respectable and eye-opening investigation into the tale of the women that played a part of Weinstein’s sexual encounters and bad behavior. Yes, they are problems with the movie, but I believe that the sincerity and the subject matter being told is quite effective and is bolstered out some solid performances throughout to make up for the feature’s shortcomings.
She Said is directed by actress / director Maria Schrader, whose previous directorial works include such projects as Love Life, Unorthodox, and I’m Your Man. Given her previous directorial projects, Schrader makes She Said her most ambitious project to date, which tackles such a profound and palpable material to showcase and represent within a political journalism motion picture. With so many narrative threads to tackle in such a intercut and interlayered story of uncovering the truth of all the women (well, not all, but many of them) in disclosing the truth about their sexual encounters with Weinstein, Schrader does indeed to an admirable job in presenting this tale and gives us (the viewers) a narrative to follow that is layered and gives off a proper building as the feature moves forward. Of course, there are bits and pieces that hit some snags and just come off as a bit wonky / underdevelopment, but such a endeavor was bound to happen (giving the amount of time needed and so many characters, but I’ll talk about that more below), yet Schrader approach the film and shapes it to be one that builds upon that guidance of introducing the tale of sexual accusations against Weinstein (and Miramax), the women that have pass secrets, the investigative nature of building an article, and the overall final conflict of preparing the article. It is indeed quite a compelling story; one that is filled with so many emotions, uncomfortable feelings, and justice for those who were too afraid to come forward. Schrader keeps all of that in mind, with the movie building towards a resolution that will mostly likely satisfied viewer, with the main focus of the feature being the actual NYT article that Twohey and Kantor write.
Of course, this brings up the notion of She Said’s material, which is quite disturbing and has an unsettling feeling throughout. Of course, the real-life accounts are just as terrible and even more so than what the film could ever project, but Schrader does handle with care and sincerity when approaching this subject matter and the real-world material that was given. Of course, Schrader handles the investigative journalism moments well, especially in showing the setbacks and triumphs that go on throughout the movie. As stated above, I knew a little bit about the whole Weinstein investigation that took place several ago, but that was mostly through several media and didn’t really go further than that. So, I was quite intrigued how the movie develops the sequences of events that led up to the NYT publish the article that shocked the world. Of course, this comes into the play of the horrific events that the women who came forward…their personal stories of their encounters of Weinstein and the lude and deprave sexual harassment that Weinstein committed and subjected them to, including threats, backlash, and “hush money” for their silence to speak out against him.
Schrader doesn’t shy away from the emotional pain that these women share and the emotional drama of the feature hangs on those moments, with the movie showcasing Twohey and Kantor’s crusade to bring to light the sexual misconduct practices not only just for Weinstein and Miramax, but also from the other big / high profile workplaces where misogyny runs amok. Thus, regardless of if one doesn’t particular care for the movie as much, there is no denying the fact that Schrader did a commendable job for displaying some raw emotion and sincerity for these women that had come forth. In addition, I do have to admit that the a few key parts of the feature’s dialogue was pretty good. Of course, sometimes cheesy (more on that below), but there are few moments where the dialogue was spot on and definitely had those dramatic proses that help build upon the scene for cinematic flourishes. In the end, while not the absolute perfect film, Schrader does good a good job in presenting She Said by showcasing a honest and informative political investigate journalism picture that speaks volumes within its context as well as enlightening of “holding the light” to the disturbing duplicity of workplace sexual abusive / harassment and that work that still needs to be done in fully bringing an end to this practice.
For its presentation, She Said creates a very realistic feature film, with the background setting having a gritty sense of realism throughout the movie. Of course, I wasn’t expecting this to be a major blockbuster endeavor with high production qualities and / or exotic locations, but what was presented definitely works and meets the industry standard for similar movies of this particular caliber of storytelling facet. Interestingly, the film, while not in every scene, is presented with a muted colors to help present the sense of dreariness throughout most of the feature, which builds up the story’s tension and importance of how gravitas everything that is going on is. Still, the movie itself finds a good understanding of the modern-day world (even though the timeline of the movie takes place in 2017) with touches and flourishes from city life in New York City to various suburbia dwellings. Again, it’s that attention to real world interpretation through background and settings that definitely helps build upon the realism of the narrative, with the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Meredith Lippincott (production design), Tommy Love (art direction), Philippa Culpepper (set decorations), and Brittany Loar (costume design) to bringing that visual aesthetics of the real-world in both genuine, natural, and life-like, yet also cinematic. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Nicholas Britell, definitely compliments the film beautifully, with a very dramatic and moody composition that helps build up emotional tension and theatrical scenes that evoke a certain type of feeling (emotional, absorbing, dread, relief) in a very subtle way.
Unfortunately, She Said does hit a few snags along the way, which causes the feature to draw criticism in a few areas that holds the movie back from reaching cinematic greatness within its achievement of the material being told. How so? Well, perhaps the biggest complaint point that I had with the film is the overall pacing for the film. Schrader certainly knows what type of movie that she wants to tell and does with enough sincerity and honesty in wanting to expose Weinstein in the retelling of the investigative journalism that both Twohey and Kantor go through. Yet, despite that notion, the movie itself is riddled with pacing issues where the movie dips and challenges the film’s integrity (the film in general, not the subject matter or message). This also doesn’t help the film’s runtime, which clocks in at around 128 minutes (two hours and eight minutes), and definitely feels like that whole two hours, with a more sluggish pacing issues that take place throughout all the three acts of the film. It’s not for a lack of trying on Schrader’s part as there is a moment where the film comes alive and has a lot to say, but there is also a lot of many narrative pieces move alongside one another and juggling of it becomes quite the challenge for the director to handle. Thus, there is a mixture of how long certain scenes are presented, which causes pacing issues throughout. There’s plenty to say about She Said’s narrative (and it comes across as such), yet still needed to be better managed for a tighter and more effective presentation.
Another big point of criticism throughout the movie is in the various characters that play a part of the feature’s story. Of course, there is no denying the fact the film has a lot to cover, especially in Kantor and Twohey’s investigation and interviewing numerous women for their report. There’s a lot of character that come and go in the movie and, while I do understand that these women are very important and their own roles to play in the story being told, it does become a bit confusing as to who’s who and who they are as characters in She Said. This sort of makes these characters acts as “cogs in the machine” for the film and that becomes a bit disappointing, especially since these women had faced such a horrific ordeal. Another part that plays into this “shortchanging” aspect is found in the family life dynamics in both Kantor and Twohey. I’ll go into more detail about this in the paragraphs below, but, suffice to say, there these “family moments” kind of shallow and feel rather clunky.
Lastly, I felt that the movie could’ve had a better time dramatizing certain events, which, despite moments of being meaningful, comes off as a bit cheesy and / or preachy at times. That’s not to say what the film wants to convey comes off as a Hallmark endeavor, with total cheese ball lines of female empowerment, but some dialogue lines are not quite as sharp and / or impact as intended, which come off as fragmented, dull, or even empty. I know that is a hard pill to swallow, especially since Schrader and her team (and those involved) are doing the right thing about what Weinstein did and those who aided the endeavor to bring everything to life, but the overdramatized moments can be a bit off-putting with the “poetic licensing” sequences taking away from the gritty realism of the story.
The cast in She Said is actually pretty good, especially the main players of the feature that carry the film on their shoulders. That being said, many of the supporting players (outside of the main ones) come off as minor supporting characters, with not enough time to fully understanding them and creates several shallow individuals throughout. Perhaps the best performances in the movie would definitely have to be actresses Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, who portray the main protagonist journalist characters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. Both Mulligan, who is known for her roles in The Great Gatsby, Drive, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and Kazan, who is known Ruby Sparks, The Big Sick, and The Deuce, give some solid performance throughout the movie. Mulligan’s Twohey acts as the more “experienced” of the two (both actress and character), which gives her a bit more meat and substance to play around with, especially in the more “heavy-hitting” scenes. That’s not to say that Kazan’s Kantor is pushed aside as she definitely gets some compelling and emotional moments to play around with, with her character interviewing several women that are perhaps the best scenes of the feature altogether. Of course, as mentioned above, the family life aspect of both Kantor and Twohey (husbands and kids) comes across as weak plot point for their respective characters and, while I do appreciate the time that Schrader and her team takes to make these two women have lives (and personal struggles) outside the investigate journalism case, it comes off as a shallow attempt that feels like it’s only scratching the surface. This includes actor Tom Pelphrey (Mank and Tiger Lily Road) as Twohey’s husband Jim Rutman and actor Adam Shapiro (Steve Jobs and Mank) as Kantor’s husband Ron Lieber. Beyond that point, I think that both Mulligan and Kazan do an effective and terrific performance in every scene that they are in.
The film is then bolstered by some a few solid performances from the cast, including actress Patricia Clarkson (Sharp Objects and Maze Runner: Death Cure) and actor Andre Braugher (The Mist and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) as NYT senior editors Rebecca Corbett and Dean Baquet. Both Clarkson and Braugher are seasoned acting veterans and it clearly shows that in whatever scene that they are in. Of course, the respective characters are supporting players, so they come and go into the feature, but both handled their sum parts quite well and deliver some good character performances in the picture.
In an interesting aspect that She Said does is that they show Harvey Weinstein in the movie, but in the way one might imagine he would be depicted in a film. What do I mean? Well, he does appear in She Said and is played by actor Mike Houston (Orange is the New Black and Deliver Us from Evil), but he’s mostly obscured from viewing, with most back shots of him and faraway shots, as well as hearing his voice through phone call interviews. Personally, I think that’s kind of a good idea. Of course, Houston does a good job in the capacity of which the film gives him to play Weinstein (he has the physical body type of his real-life counterpoint) as well as have the same type of voice of him, but Schrader makes a good point by not trying to portray the man that much. The movie is about Twohey and Kantor’s investigating story (and the females that talk to) and not so much on Weinstein himself. Some might argue with me on that point, but I think Schrader wanted to showcase more of the women of the feature and not get so much bogged down on scenes that just presented Weinstein. Of course, there are characters, including Lanny Davis, a lobbyist and lawyer of Weinstein and who is played by actor Peter Friedman (Single White Female and Succession), Lisa Bloom, a lawyer attorney who advised Weinstein on the accusation claims and who is played by actress Anastasia Barzee (Blue Bloods and Hunters), help bolster and present a look into what “team Weinstein” were trying to defend to this investigation, which offers that insight into that focus. Thus, the decision to not totally focus on a physical presence of Harvey Weinstein in She Said is justifiable.
Other supporting players, including actress Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Zelda Perkins, actress Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty and A Quiet Passion) as Laura Madden, actress Angela Yeoh (The Batman and Zebra Girl) as Rowena Chu, actor Zach Grenier (Ray Donovan and Deadwood) as legal man Irwin Reiter, actress Keilly McQuail (The Plot Against America and Orange is the New Black) as the voice of actress Rose McGowan, actor Sean Cullen (Michael Clayton and Mindhunter) as Lance Maerov, actress Sarah Ann Masse (Gossip Spy and How We Met) as journalist Emily Steel, and actor James Austin Johnson (Fairview and Saturday Night Live) as the voice of Donald J. Trump, round out the remain characters in the movie. Naturally, some have larger roles than others, but this is where the movie gets a bit muddy, especially since She Said tries to juggle a lot of supporting characters throughout the endeavors. Of course, all of these talents are goo in their respective roles, yet some could’ve been easily expanded upon for a better understanding of their characters, especially the women who Twohey and Kantor investigate. Lastly, I do appreciate the real-world involvement of actresses Ashley Judd (Heat and Kiss the Girls) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma and Iron Man) in She Said, with both talent portraying themselves, with Judd physically working on the project and Paltrow providing her voice. Of course, the movie could’ve easily cast other actresses to portray these two, but to have them participate in the film was highly commendable on their respective parts.
Will you on the record?” a fundamental question asked to several women as two NYT journalist dive headfirst into uncovering the truth behind the hushed sexual harassment scandal committed by film giant Harvey Weinstein in the movie She Said. Director Maria Schrader’s latest film tackles the controversial and hard-hitting look into unearthing Weinstein’s sexual misconduct encounters; a spark that launched a look at the Hollywood industry’s silent practice and other business empires out there in the treatment of young women and the ways and the journalistic publication article that took him down. While the movie struggles in its pacing as well as a few balance key moments and juggling all the characters throughout the movie, the film still manages to come out on top, with especially thanks to Schrader’s direction, the handling of the narrative subject matter, a good presentation, a solid atmospheric display (cinematography and score), and the acting talent involved (most notably Mulligan and Kazan). Personally, I liked this movie. It definitely checks off all the boxes for a investigative journalistic feature that tackles some heavy-hitting issues and does with few sensitive grace and honesty. As stated, there are a few bumps that the film hits, yet the end result makes for a satisfying viewing that speaks the real-life events of which the movie surrounds and projects throughout its runtime. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both a “recommended” one as well as a solid “rent it” for those who are looking for a dramatized iteration of the “based on the true story” events that took place in the formation of the NYT article against Weinstein. In the end, while not the quintessential investigate journalistic feature film endeavor of recent memory, She Said still establishes itself with well-meaning, sincere dignity and reflective mirror of the real-world in the misogyny treatment of women, masculine male dominance in the workplace, misconduct behaviors practices that need to be eradicated from all business from the lowest menial jobs to the halls of power. Perhaps the final conclusion of the feature ends with there is still a lot more work that needs to be done, with the events of the Weinstein investigation scratching the surface of what is done behind closed doors by some of the more powerful moguls of major industries. And that….is quite disturbing.
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended / Rent It)
Released On: November 18th, 2022
Reviewed On: December 11th, 2022
She Said is 128 minutes long and is rated R for description sexual assault and language