'She Said' (Reaction)
It's Fine... I Guess
Last night, I watched She Said at the Virginia Film Festival, where, upon leaving the screening, I tussled between parsing the difference between a film possessing importance and it being good. She Said is frustrating in that regard because the film does just enough of the former to trick you into the latter.
Maria Schrader’s She Said, based on New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s same-titled investigative novel chronicling how sexual harassment incubates and metastasizes in the work place, is a film that, at every turn, aims to remind you of its own importance. Which isn’t to say it’s inconsequential. Documenting the fall of former tyrannical Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein through the words of his victims exists is an imperative task. But Schrader struggles to render her film’s narrative intent in a coherent cinematic language.
She Said, smartly, doesn’t immediately begin with Weinstein. We first meet Twohey (Carey Mulligan), a hardened reporter with missile-targeted eyes that do not miss, working on a story concerning sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. A few cubicles away from her is Kantor (Zoe Kazan), who is initially introduced as an experienced reporter, but whom the narrative will soon betray in that regard by presenting her as an unpracticed neophyte. We see their lives outside of being reporters, and how their personal lives, in many ways, are inseparable from their work.
Even so, after Twohey returns from maternity leave she partners with Kantor on a story about Weinstein. The victims —who range from A-list actresses to former assistants and other women studio employees — aren’t difficult to find. Getting them to go on record, however, presents multiple challenges. We bounce from state to state, sometimes country to country as the two reporters do the legwork to listen to these survivors tell their stories, causing the film to primarily be about sharing these harrowing accounts.
But the editing, particularly in the first hour, lacks anything remotely resembling rhythm: we taken to too many locations, and are given too many stories to fully feel the weight of any one moment. While Spotlight had Boston’s Irish Catholic neighborhoods as a home base, and All The Presidents Men had the newsroom, we’re never in a location long enough to make it feel lived in. Which speaking of the news room, Schrader never gives that area a sense of space either. We don’t learn anything about New York Times nor see Twohey and Kantor as writers, ala Woodward and Bernstein, building the story through their words as much as through their legwork.
There other missteps: The dialogue is often clunky, operating through plain messaging rather than sturdy character and story building; Ashley Judd appears (she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in real life) but her inclusion, while brave, interrupts the film in ways that felt too unpredictable; Mulligan and Kazan also lack interplay in their patter, and the latter could be described as actively overacting.
Only Mulligan and a scene-stealing Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet, the paper’s Executive Editor, capture the aura of being real journalists. In fact, the film doesn’t really lock in until the final act, which heavily features Braugher. His steady rhythm gives the film the bounce it lacked before, eventually leading to a tremendous final shot that’s our generation’s version of run the presses. The last 30 minutes is so good, it’s just enough to leave you satisfied. Even so, She Said, while important, is wholly too long, is too stuck between overplaying and underplaying the narrative, and is without any sense of pace or setting. Similar to far too many other journalistic movies, but without the same craftsmanship, it’s just—fine.