Vague Visages’ second She Said review contains minor plot spoilers. Maria Schrader’s 2022 movie stars Tom Pelphrey, Samantha Morton and Carey Mulligan. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Few reviews of Maria Schrader’s sturdy She Said go without mentioning All the President’s Men and Spotlight. The new film, in line to pick up some award season recognition on the basis of its subject matter alone, follows Pulitzer-winning reporters for The New York Times (Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor) as they doggedly pursue on-the-record confirmation of the sexual misconduct, sexual assault and rape accusations against Miramax mogul and Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein. She Said is based on the 2019 Kantor and Twohey book of the same name, which emerged after their 2017 exposé.
Schrader is steady at the helm in She Said, navigating all manner of curious obstacles that come with dramatizing such a high-profile chapter in recent Hollywood. Scenes are shot at the newspaper’s iconic Midtown Manhattan location, Ashley Judd plays herself and a number of other well-known celebrities factor in the narrative. The damning, horrifying, undercover audio of Weinstein made by Ambra Battilana Gutierrez while working with the NYPD in 2015 is included, extending its status as a smoking gun in the saga. Gutierrez just testified on November 8, 2022, less than two weeks before the premiere of She Said, during Weinstein’s current rape trial in Los Angeles.
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Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Schrader make the right decision to carefully limit the ways in which Weinstein physically inhabits She Said. With the exception of the authentic sting recording, the former Miramax executive is played by actor Mike Houston. But the filmmakers refrain from allowing a fully-formed performance of the figure to occupy center stage as the ranting bully previously established in Weinstein profiles. Instead, the disembodied voice heard in a small number of phone calls focuses on the producer’s paranoia, manifested in a strange obsession with Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead of giving Weinstein oxygen, the story is methodical and procedural. Can Twohey and Kantor convince women previously victimized by the serial predator to talk?
Condensing, combining and streamlining are expected elements of movie storytelling, but She Said works toward a composite that validates as many facts and details as possible within the limitations of the feature film format. The depiction of the personal, non-work experiences of Kantor and Twohey revolves around the ongoing challenges of motherhood and work/life balance. She Said acknowledges the toll of the job. In one scene, Twohey tees off on a rude and aggressive creep who doesn’t want to be dismissed. In another, a threatening, anonymous phone call unnerves and unsettles.
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In A Different Voice (1982), Carol Gilligan writes, “As we have listened for centuries to the voices of men and the theories of development that their experience informs, so we have come more recently to notice not only the silence of women but the difficulty in hearing what they say when they speak.” The American psychologist’s words are an apt reminder to those who have criticized She Said for not fully conforming to the rhetorical strategies embodied by so many cinematic “true life” accounts of journalists at work. The way in which the film presents the testimony of Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) and others affirms the value of Schrader’s strategy: listen and then listen some more.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is a professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.
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