To put it lightly, I had mixed feelings about She Said.
On the one hand, the downfall of Harvey Weinstein is an important story and it’s one that should never be forgotten. It wasn’t that long ago that Weinstein was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Many of the people who now regularly talk about how much they hated him had no problem working for him, taking his money, and thanking him whenever they won an award. She Said focuses on the work of the two New York Times reporters, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), who wrote the initial article that detailed the allegations against Weinstein. (Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker piece was published shortly afterwards.) The film is not only about the article but it’s also about women working together and supporting each other. Kazan and Mulligan both do a good job of portraying Jodi and Megan, bringing some nuance to a script that is full of dialogue that is occasionally a bit too on-the-nose.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel that She Said lets a lot of people off the hook. While Jodi does originally pitch her story as dealing with systemic sexism, there’s actually very little examination of how the system enabled a monster like Harvey Weinstein. Mention is made of Weinstein having powerful friends but few of those friends are called out by name and there’s very little discussion about how Weinstein used his money to become a player in Washington as well as Hollywood. It leads to some odd narrative choices. For instance, both Jodi and Megan are shocked to discover that Harvey is being represented by prominent feminist attorney Lisa Bloom, the daughter of Gloria Allred. Jodi later talks about an off-screen conversation that she had with Bloom, in which Bloom tried to use a number of personal, political, and professional appeals to convince Jodi to drop the story. It sounds like an interesting conversation but why don’t we get to see it? Would it have cast Bloom in too negative of a light? The film’s approach leaves it open to such accusations. Indeed, it’s hard not to be reminded of the way that Rose McGowan was shunned when she (correctly) pointed out that a lot of the people celebrating Weinstein’s downfall were the same people who spent years ignoring what was an open secret in Hollywood. The film tells us that Harvey Weinstein is a monster but we already know that. What the film does not tell us is how he came to power and why he was protected for decades.
Thematically, She Said attempts to be a celebration of journalism, in the style of recent films like The Post, Truth, and Spotlight. Like those films, it shares the same flat visual style. There’s nothing particularly cinematic about it which is unfortunate as, with everyone already knowing how the story ends, She Said could have used some stylistic flair. To a certain extent, I can understand the logic. The emphasis is supposed to be on the reporters doing the hard work of getting the story and all of the recent films about journalism take a straight-ahead, by-the-numbers approach. The problem with using this approach for She Said is that it leads to a lot of static, poorly framed shots of people talking on the phone, sitting at their desks, and staring at computer screens. It may be a realistic depiction of modern journalism but it’s not particularly compelling to watch. If anything, the film’s depiction of clean offices, supportive co-workers, and fair-minded editors makes the film feel like a testimonial about how The New York Times is the best workplace in America. As opposed to the reporters in Spotlight, one never feels that Jodi and Megan are in danger of losing their jobs. Unlike The Post or Shattered Glass, there’s no conversations about how the media establishment is often guilty of initially enabling the same behavior that it later condemns. The New York Times never feels alive in the way that The New Republic did in Shattered Glass. There’s not even a moment that’s as ludicrously over-the-top as the scene in Truth where Cate Blanchett argues that she shouldn’t be criticized for producing an obviously false story because it could have, in theory, been true. Instead, She Said is very respectable and very dignified and a little too safe. There’s not much going on beneath the surface.
The film drops a lot of famous names. Ashley Judd plays herself while Gwyneth Paltrow provides her voice for a scene in which she calls Jodi and says that Harvey has shown up at her house. (Again, this is a scene that would probably have been more effective if we had seen it happen as opposed to just hearing about it.) Lena Dunham is given a shout-out as someone who (off-screen) called and offered to help. Someone casually mentions that Martin Scorsese hates Harvey Weinstein. And yet, the film’s most powerful moments come when Jodi and Megan talk to the women who weren’t famous but who were still traumatized and victimized by Harvey Weinstein. Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle play two former Miramax employees, both of whom eventually tell their stories to Jodi and Megan. Morton and Ehle both give heart-felt performances and, during their scenes, She Said finds its reason for existing. The performances of Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle both capture the real-life damage caused by men like Harvey Weinstein and the systems that enable them.
In the end, She Said is a film that I wanted to like more than I did. It tells a compelling story in the least compelling way possible and, unlike Kitty Green’s The Assistant, it lets far too many people off the hook.