How She Said keeps its focus firmly on the voices of Weinstein’s victims

In 2017, The New York Times published an article that blew the lid off one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in history. She Said follows the story of the two journalists who worked tirelessly to bring the story to light, and the women who were brave enough to come forward.

The very existence of She Said might elicit a sense of dread, given the sometimes bombastic way that Hollywood handles these kinds of stories.

It’s a hesitancy that makes sense. After all, the Weinstein scandal not only exposed the horrific sexual abuse committed by one man, but an entire network of cover-ups and internal protection that created a cascade of falling dominoes across the entire entertainment industry.

It does seem unsettling, then, that the very same industry should peddle a retelling of the very controversy that almost broke it. Is this a sincere act of repentance, or a hollow gesture?

This, added to the unavoidable question of “Too soon?” that inevitably latches itself onto the film, means that it’s almost impossible to go into She Said without a feeling that you’re about to see something misguided or clumsy. 

But in reality, it’s impossible to leave without feeling a sense of understanding, of heavy relief, and intense respect for both the film and the real-life subjects.

Jennifer Ehle in She Said

She Said is a sharp and mature exploration of the investigation that changed everything. Director Maria Schrader’s handling of the subject feels subtle, simple, but effective enough to avoid any need for tacky gimmicks or, equally, trite stereotypes.

The film begins in Ireland, 1992. A young woman comes across a strange sight: men emerging from the coast in military garb. You might think she’s stumbled across a crack in time, but instead, she’s found herself on a Weinstein film set. She gets handed a headset and settles into what is the beginning of a new career. 

It’s an image that will resonate with anyone who is just starting out or finding their footing, particularly those from a filmic background. The story then jumps forward to a later moment in time, to a shot that jerks us from the previous optimism – not because it depicts anything gruesome or shocking, but because we know exactly what has just happened.

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The most worthwhile aspect of She Said lies in the depiction and focus on the survivors of Weinstein’s abuse. Because of this, Weinstein himself is allowed to be a shadow at most, with his appearances limited to unhinged phone rants, the back of his infamous figure, and a voice recording that provides one of the most chilling sequences in the film.

It’s a clever narrative focus. By keeping the spotlight on the group of survivors and Carey Mulligan’s Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan’s Jodi Kantor (the two journalists who exposed Weinstein’s crimes), the film reminds us who the real subject is and has always been. 

The scenes between the two reporters and the women who tell their stories are by far and away the most impactful, particularly in the first exchange between Twohey and an ex-Miramax assistant who has long since been in hiding. They provide a highly emotional charge without getting lost in exaggeration or attempts to tug on audience sympathies, and highlight some incredibly thoughtful and strong performances. 

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan play the real-life whistle-blowers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Mulligan and Kazan are about as perfect as can be. They push the story forward, but slip seamlessly in and out of attention at the right moments when the audience ought to keep their view on the other women. It’s also a tremendous feat, to not only present an intelligent portrayal of this story, but also give us two of the most well-rounded and realistic female characters of the year in Twohey and Kantor.

It helps, of course, that they are based on their real-world counterparts, but She Said manages to avoid the cliches that so often come hand in hand with Hollywood interpretations. There are no conflicts between the two female leads here – no needy husbands, no ultimatums – just two real women, imperfect but forever professional and striving ahead.

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There are only one or two moments that raise eyebrows, such as those in a bar encounter, a video call, and in the blurred lines between real people and subbed-in performances, but they are mostly over as fast as they began and don’t hinder the pedal-to-the-floor intensity that the film adheres to.

There is a strength that lays in the spine of this film, and it will likely place itself solidly in the rankings of the underdog-turned-whistle-blower genre.

There is accuracy woven into the fabric of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s screenplay and Mulligan and Kazan’s performances, the abuse that both Weinstein’s victims and Twohey and Kantor receive themselves in daily life, and in the heart-breaking hesitancy that the survivors have in coming forward.

Because of this, She Said gets its power from the fact that the shock does not come from an inherent disbelief or dramatic value, but simply because it’s true.

She Said is in cinemas from 25 November 2022.

Images: Universal

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