Carey Mulligan & Zoe Kazan Expose The Weinstein #MeToo Story In A ‘Spotlight’-Esque Procedural [NYFF]

Jan 7, 2023

If and when they choose to speak out about it, survivors of sexual assault each find their own ways of describing their harrowing memories of the incident that victimized them. Going into survival mode, however, is perhaps one experience several would agree on. That survival mode can mean different things to different people— there is no right or wrong. Fighting back is one method. Fearfully submitting, with mind and spirit floating out of the body, wishing it would end as quickly as possible, is another.
To Rose McGowan, never shown but voiced by Keilly McQuail in Maria Schrader’s thoughtfully constructed and attentively woven journalism procedural, “She Said,” it meant faking an orgasm as the then domineering Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein—currently serving his 23-year sentence—assaulted her at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997 when she was just a twentysomething dreaming of a career. She just wanted it to end, and that was her ticket out. To another Weinstein survivor Laura Madden—who bookends “She Said,” with the present-day Madden gently portrayed by Jennifer Ehle—it meant being shocked into traumatic silence until she broke it at long last.
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“Will you go on the record?” a quote on the “She Said” poster reads, and aptly so—Schrader’s movie, after all, is a dramatized documentation of the process in which investigative New York Times journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) published their piece titled, “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” in October of 2017 after painstaking research that lasted for 18 months. It eventually renewed and amplified the worldwide #MeToo movement unassailably. But before that happened, most of that investigation involved pursuing leads to dead-ends, having doors closed on their faces, trying to earn the trust of whoever would speak with them, and attempting (at first, unsuccessfully) to convince the likes of Ashley Judd (who plays herself in the film) and Gwyneth Paltrow (never on the screen) to go on the record about how they were mistreated and abused by Weinstein in their younger days. Moreover, how they managed to survive both the incident and the trauma since then.
Journalism—at least the kind Kantor and Twohey perform—is an unglamorous and all-consuming process, with days ending with more questions than the ones that started it and piles of notes, open-ended what ifs and impossible scenarios lingering in one’s conscience through sleepless nights. The ins and outs of that world were so accurately portrayed in Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men,” still a masterpiece of this political thriller sub-genre. Similarly, 2015’s Best Picture winner “Spotlight” by Todd McCarthy dexterously dissected that toned-down mundanity as the Boston Globe reporters the film followed blew the lid off a massive child molestation scandal deeply rooted in the Catholic Church.
Lived in through suitably unspectacular sets,  gradually swelling emotions, and plausibly plain costumes, “She Said” follows in the footsteps of those two perfect movies, even though it falls quite short of their level of excellence. Mulligan and Kazan make for a believable pair of reporters, and they give the two heroic characters they’re tasked to portray their all; subtly, sophisticatedly so. And the narrative coherence is also there; an impressive feat considering the crowded canvas of people involved in these operations. But written by the ever-versatile scribe of several sharp and often feminist features such as “Collette,” “Disobedience,” and “Ida,” Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script occasionally lets the cast down with its clumsy dialogue lines that err on the side of obvious self-awareness.
Lenkiewicz is much more successful on the page when she builds high-traffic sequences with various moving parts, segments Schrader directs with operatic elegance, and editor Hansjörg Weißbrich seamlessly snaps together. Perhaps the finest example of this is an early sequence of “She Said,” which introduces Kantor and Twohey at work in 2016, with the latter tirelessly occupied with a story about the soon-to-be-president Republican candidate’s many sexual misconducts. As distressing as it is to take a trip down that particular memory lane paved with Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and the Access Hollywood tape, Schrader and Lenkiewicz’s good instincts to include that slice of history as the “She Said” opener pay off in heaps. Their inquiry, while obvious, is a powerful one: is there any hope for the system to change if it allows chronic sexual predators to become not only formidable figures in the film industry but also The President?
It’s immensely satisfying to follow Kantor and Twohey while they take on that toxic system as two working mothers trying to set a good example for their children, sharing resources and a sense of sisterhood down the line. It’s, in fact, so satisfying that you find yourself wishing there was more of that intimate camaraderie throughout “She Said,” which sometimes gets too repetitive in newsrooms and private interview sessions with lawyers, PR spokespeople, and silenced victims alike. At the New York Times meeting rooms, Patricia Clarkson, the then Assistant Managing Editor Rebecca Corbett, leaves a meekly indistinct impression. Far more memorable is a superb Andre Braugher as the former Executive Editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet. More than once and through moments you might loudly cheer, we witness him calmly dismiss a frantic Weinstein on the phone—eerily played by Mike Houston in one scene that doesn’t show his face—and even hang up on him. Elsewhere, Samantha Morton and Angela Yeoh also deliver significant work as informants key to Kantor and Twohey’s groundbreaking story.
Other than the film’s expectedly emotional end that recreates the minutes when Kantor and Twohey’s piece went live, the most imposing scene of “She Said” is ironically a documentary-adjacent one, with cinematographer Natasha Braier’s straightforward, non-distracting lens that avoids bells and whistles sweeping through the ghostly hallways of a hotel frequented by the predatory Weinstein. All you hear through these dreadful moments is Weinstein’s voice trying to aggressively defeat a pleading Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, a horrifying exchange released on a tape by The New Yorker. The rest of the film doesn’t quite stun you into a state of cavernous anguish in the same way. But on the whole, it’s still powerful stuff, made all the more haunting by the fact that history is very much the present. [B+]
The New York Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 16. Follow along for all of our coverage from the festival here.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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